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A Pastor's Memories

Monday 02 July 2018 at 12:52 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 28, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Today is a couple days before my 84th birthday, and it’s also been nearly a year since I retired from my second career as a parish pastor. So it seems an appropriate time for remembering.

            Like me, some people retire more than once, from several careers, thus each retirement is not “the end” of their worklife, just a change. But when my worklife “end” occurred eleven months ago, I felt immense grief, and even anger, that I could no longer work for a living. Finally, after almost a year, my mourning has ceased, replaced by many vivid memories, some joyful, some funny, some sad.

            I remember conducting my first baptism and my first funeral, training my first acolyte, printing my first church bulletin, and discovering there were surprises every day in the life of a pastor.

            Although Lutherans usually baptize a person when they are infants, my first baptism was of a teenager. He and his mother just walked into the church office one day, and asked me to baptize him in private. Surprised and not knowing what else to do, I baptized him. I never saw either one of them again. I have done many baptisms since then, the most memorable one being twelve children from the same family!

            My first funeral was heart-breaking and would have been difficult for even an experienced pastor to do. A member of my church was shot to death while working at a 7-11 type store during a late-night robbery. It took a great deal of prayer and a lot of help from God to provide pastoral care.

            One of my funniest memories has to do with preparing and printing a church bulletin. The church had actually not used bulletins for nine years prior to my being called there, so they had no Xerox machine and their ancient mimeograph apparatus had not been used in many years. I considered not having a Xeroxer a good thing, because I had never used one (as a junior college teacher, my tests and handouts had always been typed and Xeroxed by the Fine Arts secretary), but I knew how to operate a mimeograph machine from my days as a high school teacher.

            There was a major problem, however, in that the church’s antique mimeographer spit out and splattered black goo all over me when I tried to run off my first bulletin. The Church Trustees had no idea how to alleviate the problem, so one of our ladies made me a huge denim apron, which I would wear each time I ran a bulletin. The apron, however, did not cover my face, so on occasion my face would get a black-ink makeup job! I used that all mimeograph machine for at least five years before the church purchased a modern copier.

            When I began my ministry at the church, there were very few children, and I had a difficult time finding an acolyte to serve at the altar. Finally, I recruited a well-behaved twelve year-old boy, and had to train him in the proper way to light the candles and to process with the cross or the banner. Not being able to remember all the do’s and don’ts of acolyting, I was relieved to find that his father had served as an acolyte as a youth and could help him (or maybe it was his grandmother who helped him). Our first acolyte robe was an old cotta originally worn by a confirmation student in the distant past. This young man served as acolyte for so many years that he outgrew his cotta; his family and I were so proud of his long, faithful service.

            One of the perks of being a pastor is being given things by your parishioners, especially produce, such as pears, Satsuma oranges, okra, squash, tomatoes, etc. (and even jars of pickles and jellies, not to mention poppy seed kolaches).

            It started the very first week of my ministry. I would arrive at my office, and lo and behold there was a plastic bag filled with cucumbers placed against my locked office door, a few days later, a bag of squash, then onions, etc. Who was this mysterious produce fairy? No one would confess, until one day I showed up a little early, and there was a sweet old lady depositing something at my door (I soon learned that every member of the church had a key to the front door of the building). She told me the Good Book taught her to do good but to make sure no one saw her doing good!

            Those are just a few of my many, many memories as a pastor. It’s good to remember.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.

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