When I came to the Presbyterian Church of Wilmington two-and-a-half years ago, at the advanced age of 60, I felt that I would need some way to connect with the young children.
I had been passed over several times in my job search for a pastorate because many churches were looking for someone who could organize a Christian rock band or take the youth group kayaking in northern Minnesota. My pastoral deficiencies in that regard made a big impression on me.
So, I resolved that I would do what I could here in Wilmington to make up for my lack of youth by having “something” the kids could relate to.
We always had dogs, in particular Labrador Retrievers, so having an Official Parish Dog was my immediate solution to the youthful relations challenge.
As if, (no, most assuredly) sent by God himself, Wally came into our lives from the Clinton County Humane Society.
Wally was a mostly yellow Labrador Retriever, who walked right into parish life and into our hearts. While I was sure he could learn the ropes of pastoring quickly, I did not realize how much I would learn from Wally about what good pastoring is made of.
Wally has taught me five lessons of good ministry and I will share them with you now.
1. Be authentic. God knows who and what we truly are and that is what we should reflect in our ministry. God gave us the heart and talents to use best in His service. We should not try to be or act in some way just because we want to please others. Wally is a proud canine and uses all of those special canine skills in his ministry.
Last year I thought his size and coloring were perfect for him to portray a lion in our preschool play. I bought his a lion’s mane to he could be a Lion of God. Wally protested and sat down, refusing to move until the cat attire was removed. He could not pretend to be something he was not. My prayers are most meaningful and my pastoring most comforting when I am being me.
2. Trust your nose. God gives each of us a special skill or a very accurate sense. For Wally it is his sense of smell, 10,000 times more accurate than mine. If something doesn’t smell right, Wally knows it and acts accordingly. As a pastor, I am often called to go where the Holy Spirit is leading.
When I am not sure that the spirt is truly “holy” that is calling me, I need to take a step back. How do I know? The power of prayer and true communication with God is the key. Wally has his nose and I have my prayers.
3. When in doubt, wag your tail? Always approach any situation with a joyful attitude until it proves to be otherwise. Wally wags first and I try to smile first.
4. Reserve judgement. Wally is fearful of things that I might not understand. He can sense a thunderstorm 20 miles away and starts to shake. A train whistle will send him into a corner in an instant. I don’t know why he is afraid of these things because I do not know what life he lived before he came to live with us.
The traumas and terrors of his previous life are unknown to me. It is the same when people come to us as pastors with fears and worries we cannot understand. Wally has taught me to be mindful that I do not know the walk these hurting folks have walked.
Love, compassion and understanding are the qualities God calls us to exemplify, not condemnation and judgement.
5. Be grateful with gusto. Whether you are begging for a dog bone or the mercy of God, do so with gusto and the expectation that your needs will be fulfilled.
When you receive that mercy, be grateful. God has all we need and we have a need to show Him how grateful we are for His grace and mercy.
The Lord sent me Wally, I thought, to help with the young people. Wally has been a true help to me in all of my ministry and in all areas of my life.
It is like that with God too.
We ask God to help us in one area of our lives where we know we need his help and find that our lives are truly blessed when we bring Him into every corner of our lives.
Deborah Linville is Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Wilmington.