The Ministry of Small Talk

My pastor, during my adolescent years, came often to our home. After a brief and awkward interval, he always said, "And how are things in your SOUL today?" (He always pronounced "soul" in capital letters).

I never said much. I was too intimidated. The thoughts and experiences that filled my life in those years seemed small potatoes after that question. I knew, of course, that if I ever wanted to discuss matters of SOUL, I could go to him. But for everything else, I would probably do better with someone who wouldn't brush aside as worldly vanity what it felt like to get cut from the basketball varsity, someone who wouldn't pounce with scary intimations of hellfire on the thoughts I was having about Marnie Schmidt, the new girl from California.

Pastoral work, I learned later, is that aspect of Christian ministry that specializes in the ordinary. It is the nature of pastoral life to be attentive to, immersed in, and appreciative of the everyday texture of people's ...

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