“You are not equipped.” The preacher seemed to be looking straight at me. Across the worship space, in this room festively decorated in red and filled with the heady scent of flowers, I could see some uncertain faces. In a few minutes, we would go forward to be ordained as Lutheran pastors. Yet as the preacher set before us the charges of ordination, he continued to follow each one with the same stark pronouncement. “You are not equipped.”
When I began in ministry, I'd enter a hospital room with a bit of trepidation, as if entering a strange and alien land. I wasn't sure what I'd encounter there and how I might respond. I wasn’t used to the sights and sounds and smells—the sight of someone hooked up to a tube, the occasional snoring or groaning of a roommate, the antiseptic smell that sometimes barely conceals the various human smells that infuse the air. I didn’t know the customs of this land either—for instance, whether I should stop praying when a doctor entered the room, or introduce myself to the doctor, or leave the room when the doctor begins the consultation. But now, after 25 years as a pastor, I've been in hundreds of hospital rooms, and they all look familiar.
"You can be a minister. Just don’t marry one,” I heard myself telling a little girl in my church, and then wondered where that came from. I suspect that I meant it as a compliment to my husband, who was standing nearby. Perhaps I had been short-tempered, as I sometimes am on Sunday mornings, so the comment was my way of saying that I know it is not always easy to be married to a minister.
Early on in our marriage, Karen began to decide that even if she believed in some kind of God, she could not accept basic Christian teachings. The faith claims that Christians make about Jesus—about him being the Son of God—seemed unbelievable to her. The Bible is just another book, she began to conclude, and so we cannot grant it any particular authority. She wondered whether she could continue to attend church. This stirred a bit of panic in me. She was not just my wife. She was the minister’s wife.