Delayed Gratification... Way Delayed!
Some of the loneliest moments I've experienced were in a large and noisy room filled with people, young people. Sunday afternoons during the last quarter of the twentieth century, in Valley Stream in the Education Building gym, with twenty to thirty junior highs playing this game or that, intensely involved with one another, I must have seemed to them a statue by Rodin, just sitting there, intensely involved in thoughts about what on earth I was doing surrounded by thirteen year olds. They never asked.
Yes, there were moments, precious few, but precious still, when they would open up to me and listen to me as intently as I listened to them. I still remember and savor two occasions. One was in the main room of Bobilin cottage at Camp Quinipet, early Saturday evening. Liz, Barbara, Julie, to name just three participants, might remember. Margaret would too, but she does it from more serene environs than mortal earth. The other occasion was at Camp Epworth when thirty of us danced. Even the pastor, a guy who flunked dancing school (couldn't Lindy), got in the mood, thanks to John and Kris, who were old enough then to remember still... and, of course, dear Margaret.
But those were the exceptions. Mostly in the gatherings of junior highs I was a model for Rodin's Thinker, except for an occasional bark to keep them from maiming one another. When at last I repaired to the parsonage, sometime around six, after a solitary stint cleaning and straightening up after my friends, I collapsed into a recliner, sighed, and wondered silently, "What on earth are you doing, Howard?"
Now I know. Teenaged eyes see more than they let even themselves know. Teenaged ears hear more even in the silences than they understand. But give them ample years to marinate in those experiences and they return crediting the solitary figure on the edge of the gym stage with wisdom, generosity, and influence he has a very hard time believing could have been the case.
Karen Petry-Desiderio, June 23rd's bride, is the inspiration for this observation at this moment in my life and times. Her high opinion of the old pastor, merited or not, repeats a theme which can be found, if not writ as large, in the reports on this website of weddings of other once-junior highs.
When I began as a pastor, in the little white clapboard church in West Redding CT, I asked the District Superintendent sending me there, "What do I do other than preach?" Lewis H. Davis, who two years later would become my father-in-law, said in a word, "Visit." He later expanded on that advice with a rule he ardently applied: "Get so close to your people that when they kick it doesn't hurt." So I visited and I gathered a youth fellowship, including the Bronson, Goodfield, and Darling children, caroled shut-ins, and got the habit of "getting so close...".
Later, not much later, in Brooklyn and then on Long Island, I set down an auxiliary pastoral rule: "Take care of the young people and the shut-ins and those in the middle will take care of you." Surely I have repeated this observation/rule somewhere else on this website, probably in the Book.
It never ceases to surprise me, therefore, when I hear complaints from congregants that, for instance, grandma suffering from Alzheimer's hasn't been visited by the pastor. Or when I glean from an order of service insert that a church's confirmation class is being taught by someone other than the pastor. Heavens! Martin Luther's biography would be greatly bereft if the stories of confirmation class had been excluded because he never taught the young their catechism.
I offer this unasked for advice to my colleagues in that business I once pursued, pastoral care, that if you want to enjoy a happy retirement filled with good memories of congregations served, such memories strongly upheld by the return flow of affection from those once served, then, by all means, love the little and not-so-little children and their ailing grannies, and love them by lavishing on them time and attention. Like the improvement of that line from Ecclesiastes by Alexander King, "Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return to you as Lorna Doones."
Which, of course, is an ancient sidelong glance at John 15:12. You can look it up.