When I began my second pastorate, the former pastor remained an active member. Once I began my work there it became clear that she was not happy.
She wasn’t mean, nor did she try to sabotage my ministry, but she did make it clear that she didn’t like how I did things. To keep the peace, I just tried to keep my distance. I tried not to confront her or engage her or put myself in her line of fire. I knew of her displeasure and I just didn’t think anything could be done about it. I simply wanted to keep the discontent at bay.
One Sunday morning in my second or third year as her pastor, the retired minister waited to speak with me after worship. I knew this wasn’t going to be good. She asked if she might schedule a meeting with me, and with no way out, I agreed to meet her later in the week. For three days I dreaded the visit, worried that the non-engaging relationship that had worked for years was about to blow up. I knew that if we had a meeting, engaged in a sit-down, I would say the wrong thing and that she would immediately use her authority to have me ousted.
At the time of the scheduled appointment we met at the church. We walked in together and took our places in the office. She began. “There are some things I don’t like about what you do,” she said, and she proceeded to name those activities that displeased her.
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She waited. I paused and then I responded to her complaints in defense of them and with suggestions for her. And then, even knowing the land mine I was stepping on I told her how difficult it had been for me as the new pastor when she continued to stay in the role. I stopped, took a breath, bracing myself for her reply. It seemed like it was a long time before she spoke again, saying something that I never expected to hear.
“Those things I said are not the real reason for this visit,” she said softly. “The real reason I am here is because I want to say I’m sorry for my unfair judgments of you and because I would really like it if we could be friends.”
That conversation took place over 15 years ago. My friend has been in a retirement home and I have long since moved away; but I have never forgotten that talk or the surprise of grace that ignited a great friendship.
She called me not very long ago. We spoke for only a few minutes, as she does not approve of idle chatter. But she did say that she needed to tell me again that I had been important to her, that our friendship had mattered. And as I hung up I thought again of this strong and humble woman and the undeniable surprise of grace that she had given me so very long ago.
Lynne Hinton is a minister and author: www.lynnehinton.com