I was sitting outside of a Starbucks with my (new) favorite drink, a grande iced coffee with vanilla and soy, enjoying the sunny (and still cool) California morning, and working on a short talk that I had to give later in the afternoon.
A family of four came to sit at the only other available table outside. I had my headphones on, and couldn’t hear exactly what the boy asked me, but I figured he just needed one of the extra chairs for his table, so I just nodded, only to see him sit directly across from me. At my table.
That’s kinda weird, I thought.
But, I let him concentrate on his breakfast, and I concentrated on my notes.
About a minute later, his parents went inside to eat, leaving their son and daughter outside to eat, therefore, leaving plenty of room at his original table, which now was occupied by only his sister. But the boy stayed at my table, contently eating his bagel and drinking his naked juice.
That’s weirder, I thought.
“That’s a nice iPad” he said.
Oh. Now he’s talking to me.
But he kept looking at me, waiting, expecting some sort of conversation to continue.
This is awkward, I thought. How do I continue a conversation with a boy I never met, who can’t be more than 13 years old, without looking or coming off as… you know… weird?
Found out that the boy was 10, and his sister was 12 and that they were from England, touring California, on the way to Wyoming (For some reason, that helped me understand his invasion of my “personal desk bubble”).
We had a nice little conversation about Chelsea and our mutual dislike for Manchester United.
I told both of them that I liked their accent, to which they both looked at me and said, “What accent?” Ah. Oops. I have the accent to them.
He then wanted to know what I did for a living, so I told him that I was a pastor.
He looked at me and asked, “Pastor? What’s that?”
I actually didn’t know how to answer that.
“I… uh… work at a church.”
He seemed satisfied with that answer. but I wasn’t. The conversation moved on to their plans and I got to meet his parents, and they were asking me things to do in Hollywood, but my mind was still on the boy’s question.
I’ve never been asked what a pastor is. I’ve been asked what a pastor does (So what exactly do you do outside of Sundays?), but never what a pastor is.
I also thought about other conversations with people who learned that I was a pastor, “A pastor? Wow, you seem so young to be one” is the common response that I seem to get.
There seems to be a misunderstanding, or not knowing exactly, what a pastor is amongst people who don’t go to church. And what they may picture a pastor to be, seems disconnected with what a pastor really does.
So, all weekend, I’ve been asking myself, what is a pastor? What is my role in church and community? Who am I as a pastor? What is it that I do? What is it that I need to do?
And, what can I do to help non-church goers understand the role of the pastor, and help break some stereotypes? One common thing being that pastors are old. I guess the UMC doesn’t help with that stereotype, considering that clergy under the age of 35 make up less than 7 or so % of all UMC clergies.
I think it’s a good question for me to wrestle with, especially since I am going to start working on my ordination questions.
So, how would you respond to someone (especially a 10 year old) asking you what a pastor is?