This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES November 7, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
In retrospect, I can’t say for sure why I wanted to be a pastor and serve a congregation, — obviously it wasn’t for the money. I think it may have been for the same reason someone wants to become a nurse or a counselor or a special education teacher, or any teacher for that matter. Women I have known who wanted to be a nurse or became a nurse expressed some of the same feelings I felt in seeking the route to the ministry. These want-to-be nurses were all very sensitive human beings who saw so much hurt, so many needs, so much sorrow all around them, and they felt “called” to help do something beyond themselves to help vulnerable, hurting human beings. The inner love they felt for others (and, in most cases, for God) pulled them toward a career that would fulfill this inner, indefinable something.
My mother was one of those women, a fact that I did not learn about until pretty late in life. She was the ideal mother and the rock of our family, so I never thought of her as having any feelings outside of wanting to be a loving mother and splendid homemaker. But one day, when I was talking to her about my retiring from teaching and possibly going into the pastoral ministry and trying to express hard-to-express feelings (while I loved by father dearly, it was always my mother whom I could and would talk to), she said she understood, because she had once felt that way, too. She went on to explain that she had wanted very much to enroll in a nursing program and become a Registered Nurse, but there were way too many obstacles keeping her from doing it.
To begin with, Dime Box Rural School in those days had only eleven grades, and you had to go to Giddings to complete the Twelfth Grade and graduate. One of her classmates in Dime Box was able to do that; he graduated from Giddings High School so that he could go to college and Med School and become a Medical Doctor. But my grandparents could not afford to pay room and board for her in Giddings, nor could they afford transportation back and forth to Giddings. From there, of course, were the even greater costs of college and nursing school. Instead she went to work as a clerk in Noah Alber’s Drug Store. But she confessed to me how very, very much she felt drawn to a career serving hurting people as a nurse.
Others in my family had similar feelings of wanting to help suffering humanity. Two of my cousins became RN’s and one wanted to but did not finish the road to certification. She did, however, go on to work with small children, helping them to learn and grow in a Christian environment.
My mother did go on to reach out to and help others in many ways, some through her church work and some through the bounty of her success with her garden, her canning, her cows, and her chickens. She would give free milk and butter to needy families, and many, many folks enjoyed the incredible abundance of her garden and her canning. She was never a person to feel sad or bitter about what could not and did not happen; she believed God directed our lives.
During my 29 years serving in the pastoral ministry, I not only encountered many, seeking, hurting, lonely, depressed, defeated people who looked to the church, and especially to the pastor for help, but I also met many pastors who served those folks well and gave much of themselves to them. And I encountered a few pastors who probably should not have chosen the ministry as a career. The good pastors were helpers and healers and teachers and gave much of their time and energy to others. These were men who felt somewhat the same feelings the want-to-be nurses felt, — they felt drawn to love and serve others in many ways, and also had the component of faith in God and compulsion to serve God fully through the love of Christ Jesus. Meeting so many of these inspired Men of the Cloth, and getting to know them and learn from them, was one of the true “perks” of my ministry in the Circuit. I would not conclude that I myself ever completely achieved the fulfillment of those strong desires to serve God in that particular way, but, in retirement, and in retrospect, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to attempt to fulfill my dream.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.