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Pastoral Imperatives...

Today, via the wonder that is Zoom, I was able to attend the 'release of covenant' service for a minister friend of mine.  It was a beautiful service, with a thoughtful sermon, some honest prayers, kind words and a lot of grace.  My cats chose to sit nearby through the whole service, and Sophie agreed to appear on screen briefly at the end.

What struck me most was the pastoral imperatives that we, as ministers, exercise in such moments, setting aside our own preferences in order to better serve those we are among.

Today's service began with a hymn that is very precious to me - used at my Baptism, my ordination, two of my induction services and one of my leaving services.  I didn't use it at my last leaving service because there were those who actively hated it; instead I chose hymns that had been meaningful to that pastorate, including one I don't really like (hate is too strong a word, I avoid it as much as possible).  So today it was both joy to sing the hymn I love, and reminder that pastoral imperatives must always outweigh my personal preferences in public worship.

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The second hymn sung was one that I always find difficult to sing, because it expresses a level of confidence that I, in all honestly, can't promise to express - that on the day I die, in the final moments of life, I will be praising God.  I'd like to hope (theologically, determinedly) that I might, but I cannot be sure, so I cannot, do not, will not sing those lines.  I think God understands.  Pastoral imperatives to self-care, to know that it is okay, at least with God, to sing or not, say or not, claim or not...

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The liturgy for release of covenant, words I created for use in the parting of ways with a church that had run out of money to pay me;  words that have been published and used in many different contexts (with or without tweaks, that's totally fine); words I used last year; words that today I heard/experienced as a guest at another ending.  I reckon they are okay, that I 'done good enough' in what I wrote fifteen years ago, that these words are inspired by a pastoral imperative and not just by my own own pain, hurt, regret, wondering and worrying.

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It was a privilege to attend the service, to hear words of thanks and words of regret, words of pain and words of hope... pastoral imperatives are complicated to negotiate, and there are rarely 'right' answers, just responses that are 'good enough' and that, I believe, is okay with God.

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