October is Pastor/Clergy Appreciation Month, and this coming Sunday (October 14th) is Clergy Appreciation Day, so I thought I would take (more than) a few words to express some appreciation for those who have been pastors in my life.
The first real pastor I ever knew was John Granger, Sr. Dr. Granger is my best friend's (John Jr.) dad. I met him when I was in the third grade and ever since he has been a sort of second father to me. As a kid, I knew he was a pastor, but I never felt the uncomfortable pressure of having to conform to some false sense of piety whenever I was in his presence. Whenever I would play or spend the night with John, I never felt like his dad saw me as a "potential convert," a soul in need of saving. I felt like a normal kid.
As I got older, Dr. Granger became a steady presence of a man of faith in my life, showing me that church-folks could be kind, generous, and unapologetically intelligent. He, his wife Kathy, their daughters Charis and Denise, and their son John (my life-long best friend) have been a second family to me, and there really aren't enough words to express my gratitude for all they've done for me in my life, so I have to begin these words about clergy appreciation with my deepest appreciation for Dr. john Granger, Sr.
The first pastor I ever had as a believer, though, was Jerry Roberson. Jerry was the new pastor of the church where I was baptized, and though he and I would likely disagree on a great many things theologically these days, without Jerry's love of Jesus and care for me, I wouldn't be where I am now. Jerry showed me how to be a passionate preacher, how to really show you care about others, how to give of one's self to this strange and wonderful calling of pastoral ministry.
Jerry was the one who asked a group of men to meet every morning before Sunday School (unbeknownst to me) to pray that I would respond to the call of God he could so clearly see working within me. It was Jerry that took an entire day of his life to drive me three hours, one-way, for a college visit that would set my life on its current trajectory. I owe a great deal to the man we lovingly called "Brojerry," and I am grateful for him and his call.
Then there were the professors I had in college, specifically Jim Barnette and Ken Roxburgh. Jim was the University Minister when I came to Samford, and I had a work-study job in his office. Jim helped me flesh out my call, gave me a wider appreciation for the art of preaching, and single-handedly shaped my educational path after a direct phone call to Truett Seminary. Ken Roxburgh shaped my love of theology and showed me how an academic life can lead to a deeper love of Christ and the Church. To this day, Ken is a good friend (and a regular source for previously-owned books). I'm deeply appreciative for the ways Jim, Ken, and the other professors in the Samford Department of Religion (David Bains, Penny Marler, Joe Scrivner, and Paul Halloway) shaped my calling and understanding of faith. I often refer to that department as my home.
My time at Samford also introduced me to April Robinson, the first woman I ever heard preach. She changed so much of my perspective about ministry, about the Church, about faith in general. I can remember our conversations as they would range from thoughts about Jesus to expectations concerning the upcoming NASCAR race. She was my minister for the nearly three years I was in college, and the way she shaped my understanding of my faith (along with Renee and Brian Pitts) has been immeasurable.
Then there is Dennis Foust, the pastor with whom I served as an intern in my last semester. Without a doubt, no one has shaped my understanding of the calling of "Pastor" as much as Dennis has. He has been a constant source of encouragement, a healthy dose of realism, and above all else, a constant friend and mentor in this life of ministry. For Dennis, I am truly appreciative beyond words.
In recent years, there have been others who have served as ministers and pastors to me, not the least of whom is the Rev. Lee Shafer. Lee is an Episcopal priest in the same county in which I serve as a Baptist pastor, but for nearly a decade she has been a friend with whom I can share my frustrations and joys, a colleague who understands the ups and downs of congregational life in our shared context, and one whom I count as my minister. I'm grateful for Lee and her ministry and perhaps most grateful that she took the chance (along with Rebecca Littlejohn) to meet with a Baptist minister one day for lunch, in spite of the reputation Baptist ministers may have had in her circles.
As a pastor, I am most appreciative for other pastors, my friends, who each and every day seek to lice into this calling given to us by God. I am appreciative for friends like Chris George, pastor of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Atlanta, who is a fierce friend for those of us who serve alongside him, for friends like Bob Ford, retired campus minister, whose ministry in retirement has connected him to a new generation of ministers who look to him as a stable presence of faith and ministry, friends like Les Jones and Brad Mitchell who accept the call of God to serve in bi-vocational roles, giving leadership to congregations who deserve the same chances and guidance as larger churches.
I am grateful for every pastor, priest, or minister that has had some shaping force in my current ministry. I am all the more grateful as I serve on this side of ministry, knowing that there are struggles and difficulties that most laity will never understand, expectations that are beyond reasonable, and work that never seems to be done or adequately recognized. Thank you to every, single, one of you who do this work, who seek to live this calling. Thank you.