Reflections from the Pastor’s Booth
New Yorkers are endlessly fascinating to me. Indeed, humanity is endlessly fascinating to me. I was young once, and now I am old. So I have experienced many of the stages of life that those passing by are going through. I like each one of the passersby. I try to imagine what they are going through. I love to see children skipping by. I love elderly folks pushing their walkers, hurrying to get across the street before the light changes. I remember being fit and strong, like many of the people I see. I remember my times in the hospital, recovering, trying to regain strength, like many of the people I see. I wonder about the jobs of the passersby. Do they have a good boss? Do they feel up to their responsibilities or do they feel overmatched? I wonder about their homes and families. I wonder about those who have lost their heart to somebody, or would like to because they are lonely. Even if the passersby do not sit down at my booth, still I am grateful for each one and softly say, “God bless you” to them.
It is quite a responsibility to sit at the Pastor’s Booth. As I walk toward church in the morning, I often say a prayer for the Pastor’s Booth that day, asking our heavenly Father for grace and faith and truth to minister to people that day. I ask to listen well and then to answer well. I ask to win souls to Jesus.
Pastor Caleb Douglas and I sit at the Pastor’s Booth on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, from 10:30 AM – noon. We have learned not to sit together at the booth, because we tend to talk theology and passersby then pass on by, too polite to interrupt us. So, I sit there for half the time and then Pastor Caleb takes over.
So, New Yorkers walk by with a sense of strength and confidence, but some of them sit down at my booth and burst into tears. That is why I have a box of tissues for them. City people are like all of humanity: we have hopes and dreams, sorrows and setbacks and fears. Pastor Caleb and I wear clerical collars. People know what to expect from us. They know that our job is to give encouragement and guidance to people by speaking of Jesus. That is what we try to do, as helpfully as we can.
And I figure I can pray for anyone. Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, all kinds of people sit down at my booth. I have learned to welcome each one and to take delight in them. That is one important transformation coming from this ministry: I have learned not to be intimidated by atheists and folks who are not Lutheran. Somehow, the Pastor’s Booth helps clarify things: I am making myself available to people so that they can tell me what is on their hearts, so that I can speak of Jesus to them and pray for them.
I have been Pastor of this congregation for twenty-seven years now. But it is easier to meet people, if I simply sit on the sidewalk. This booth is about availability.
I have been sitting at the Pastor’s Booth for two years now. The longer I sit at the booth, the more I find my answers to be scaling themselves down so that I only want to talk of Jesus. “Jesus is everything,” I say to people. “Fill your heart with Jesus,” I urge people. “Fill your heart with Jesus and then calmly face the events of the day.”
It is a solemn thing to sit at the booth. There have been times when I have been haunted by conversations at the booth. I have wondered whether I said the right thing. I have prayed most earnestly that the Lord would accept these conversations and bring good out of them — good for the people involved and good for his kingdom.
Well, that is a good prayer for each of us. At the end of the day, we can offer what we’ve done to the Lord, in the name of Jesus. We can ask that our heavenly Father repair our mistakes, turn them around, and use them for the upbuilding of his kingdom. No matter what our work, we can work with confidence knowing that with our God nothing is impossible, and ever our humble work can be useful to him, to whom belongs the glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Pastor Gregory P. Fryer has served Immanuel Lutheran Church since 1991. A congregation in the heart of New York City, Immanuel is grateful for the unique opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
*Originally published in the Immanuel Messenger, a monthly newsletter publication by Immanuel Lutheran Church, and The Atlantic Vine.