Clergy share ‘wacky’ experiences of ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Clergy share ‘wacky’ experiences of ministry

By Erik J. Alsgaard | May 29, 2009 {1022}

LAKELAND, Fla. — Some of the more than 2,000 lay and clergy members preparing for the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event June 11-13 will be attending for the first time. For others, the annual gathering marks their 40th or more.

The Revs. Lawrence Barriner (left to right), Dean Witten and Walter Monroe reconnect at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1182.

Most of the repeat attendees are clergy, who, like the laity, not only participate and vote in the life of the annual conference, but enjoy the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones.
And they always have stories to share.

Last year, during the clergy session — laity gather in their own session at the same time — the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, chairwoman of the conference’s Order of Elders, a group primarily responsible for enlisting and recruiting ordained clergy, asked clergy to share some of their experiences, especially the more unusual incidents.

The responses were immediate. Some were touching, some heartbreaking, some funny. All offered a glimpse of what it is like to be a servant in ministry.

Their stories

“We put out a form for folks to submit ‘hard questions’ for our ‘Serious Answers to Hard Questions’ sermon series. One form came back with a question I have been asking all my ministry: ‘Why doesn’t our pastor retire?’ We did not include that in our sermon series.”

“I actually had a lady call and complain about the color of paper we used to run the church newsletter. She wanted us to use a different color because when she posted it on her refrigerator it clashed with the color of her kitchen.”

“One parishioner said, ‘Omit those prayers of joys and concerns from the congregation as they take too long and I can’t hear most of them anyway. Besides, they cause your service to go over an hour, and that is all I plan on being here.’ ”

“Looking at the famous painting of Christ standing at the door knocking, a member of my church said, ‘Gee, what a nice painting of Christ. Did he pose for that painting?’ ”

“I had a woman ask me to never sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ again, and if that were not possible, to please call her whenever it was being sung so that she could stay home that week.”

Services like massages offered during the health fair at last year’s annual conference event help clergy and laity de-stress from the rigors of ministry. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1183.

“A man e-mailed me that I should turn all of the preaching over to an assistant pastor and I should just take care of administration. At the same time, another man e-mailed me that I didn’t have the gift of administration and leadership and I should turn that over to the assistant and stick to preaching. Then a woman walked into my office and told me that I should resign from my position and leave the church. Then she gave me a hug and told me that she cared for me deeply.”

“Reported to the district superintendent: ‘Pastor is way too concerned with evangelism; she is always inviting people who don’t belong to our church to come.’ ”

“On a hospital visit to an inactive member, the patient did not believe me that I was his pastor. He asked if I was a singing telegram. I told him, ‘No, I am the pastor of the United Methodist church. I would be glad to say a prayer with you.’ After the prayer he asked me, ‘Now will you sing to me?’ I declined.”

“A small group of people came to me once, saying, ‘Too many people we don’t know are starting to come to church.’ What a tragedy! I just smiled and said, ‘Isn’t that the point? I’ll be happy to listen to every one of your biblically-based concerns about people you don’t want worshiping with us.’ ”

“Six months into my first appointment, I received a letter from a male parishioner who had three chief complaints: 1). That my name was wrong — ‘Suggest you drop the Debbie bit and use Pastor Deborah; our previous pastors weren’t Pastor Sammy and Pastor Timmy.’; 2). That my husband needed to change seats — ‘How can you stand having your husband sit in the front row? He needs to move to the back or go teach Sunday school.’; and 3). That I needed a lot more jokes and funny stories in my sermons — ‘I’ve heard all these stories before, and I need a good reason to go to church. If it’s all going to be Bible lesson, then the TV shall prevail!’ ”

“I got a call at 4 a.m. The woman wanted me to come over and tell her if her husband was dead or not. I didn’t know what to say at first, so she reminded me that I told her to let me know if there was anything I could ever do for her. So I went over to her house and checked on her husband, who was dead.”

“There was this trustee (former trustee now) who complained that we had to pay the pastor a salary because we gave him a free house.”

“After my first son was born, I mentioned from the pulpit that I was getting used to being a modern dad and learning how to change diapers. I was called by my staff parish relations chair a couple of weeks later and told she had received a complaint about my vulgar language from the pulpit. When I asked what I said, she laughed and said someone was offended by the word diaper.”

“After the congregational representatives gathered together to tell me that I was not spending enough time in the office and I was not spending enough time out of the office visiting, they gave me their solution: I was to keep office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and during lunch I could take one hour and visit door to door.”

“I once had a groom ask me during pre-marital counseling if I could take all the ‘God stuff’ out of the ceremony because ‘It sounds too churchy.’ ”

The Rev. Annette Pendergrass (left) prays during last year’s annual conference event with a member contemplating entering the ministry. Members are given the opportunity at each annual conference event to express their interest in pursuing the ministry and invited to pray with Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and other clergy about that possibility. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1184.

“When I came to Florida from Indiana in 1994, one parishioner complained to me that I was a Yankee. Then, he said, ‘I’m afraid you are the worst kind of Yankee.’ I asked what kind that was. He said, without a smile, ‘A Yankee is someone who comes and leaves. A (darn) Yankee is someone who comes and stays. I’m afraid you’re a (darn) Yankee.’ This was at the same church that, on my first Sunday, had for special music a rendition of ‘I Wish I Was in Dixie’ with guitar. In the middle of the verses there was an interlude in which the musician quoted Lee’s surrender address from memory. I’m not making this up.”

“Two elderly sisters complained every week for a year about the fact that I had a beard. It did not matter to them that Jesus did, too. Every week as they left the service, each told me to shave it off.”

“One of my most ridiculous complaints was from the joker who said, ‘The problem with having a woman pastor is you don’t know where to look.’ I guess he hadn’t heard of the value of eye contact. Another part of that conversation was his assertion that the conference was leaving me another year in that church so that the new church start nearby would get more people since they obviously would not want to be at a church with me (or maybe any woman) as the pastor. And then he expected me to hug at the end of that bizarre conversation.”

And finally:

“Our church did a survey. One suggestion on the survey was, ‘Keep the pastor and get rid of the congregation.’ ”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.

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