The minister is on call 24 hours every day. But who is on call for the minister?

Things were rough in one of my pastorates. I was experiencing a variety of disappointments. The Enemy’s attacks seemed to come from every side.

What was worse, I did not know whom to turn to. I did not feel free to go to my superior. Nor did I feel comfortable going to a clergyman within my own denomination. My own relatives were miles and miles away. Lifelong friends were dispersed around the world. I had talked out the matter with my own family till they were tired of hearing about it; after all, they were being squeezed in the same tension that was enveloping me.

One Monday morning 1 found the skies particularly dark within my mind. I was confused, and my nerves were torn.

The parsonage phone kept ringing from parishioners seeking a pastor’s help for their own hurts. The routine responsibilities of administering affairs of the congregation continued without letup. Appointments had to be met; duties had to be seen through on time. But how could I be of serious help to another mortal when I felt my own mortality all too severely?

I needed someone to talk to: someone not part of the ecclesiastical machine’s political structure; someone who would not betray me and could not undercut me; someone who would sympathize with what I was going through. 1 needed a caring heart that could align with the specific anxieties of a minister under strain.

I had been attending the evensong of a downtown Episcopal church—a treat I had given myself over the previous 20 years in my various pastorates. I had picked up the bulletins and begun to feel a part of its family. I somehow felt that the clergy of that parish had come to be my own comrades in the faith.

And so when I dialed that Episcopal church number, I did not feel a total stranger. Still, I had never talked with any of the ministers on its staff, nor seriously talked with any of the laity. From all practical vantages, I had been only a peripheral spectator. However, I had a warm spot in my heart for that fellowship and all that went on there.

The phone rang and a secretary answered pleasantly on the other end. “Is there a minister I could talk to? I know this is Monday and no doubt the clergy are not in. But I am a minister in this same city and I need to talk with a pastor for about an hour, if that is possible.”

She put me on hold, and presently a kind voice took the place of hers. It was one of the clergymen telling me that he was in his study and would be glad to chat with me.

Within half an hour I was seated in his office. He was relaxed and, surprisingly, I was, too. I sensed that he accepted me as an equal, one pastor talking with another. I poured out the matters I was anxious about, longing for a friend to hear me out, to slide in where I was bleeding. He quickly picked up my frequency and let me know that he was meshing with my hurt.

The Episcopal Church and the Church of the Nazarene are dissimilar in traditions of worship, with obvious differences in liturgy, vestments, hymn selection, and the like. But those distinctions did not concern us. It was a mystifying marvel to witness the invisible presence of the living God weaving together the reaching out for divine strength, the talking, the praying together, the promises of further intercessions together of the two of us. Yet it happened, and I will never forget it.

When this new friend of mine had finished his compassionate prayer on my behalf, I left his study. He could have dropped me. He was a busy man. His parish concerns were many. But I heard from him by phone and letter in the weeks that followed.

Looking back, I know of no one else within driving distance of my parsonage I could have talked to in such openness on that Monday morning. There simply was no one.

To be frank about the ministry, political, competitive networks overlay much of what is done in the name of the Lord within the church. These breed clerical suspicions that form barriers to open communication. Pastors wonder who is going to pull the supports out from under them if they open up, if they are honest about the tensions of the pastorate. Consequently, in too many cases it is very hard for the minister to discover a partner in ministry other than the spouse. Reality militates against it; so does carnality lurking around corners.

Through that storm of testing, I found that one can overcome by finding, in the leading of the Lord, an understanding brother in the faith from another denomination.

Why another denomination? Because neither can undercut the other. Neither can pull some political trick nor set loose some competitive scheme. That is the genius of such fellowship, and it is available to any who believe in the working of the Spirit beyond their own boundaries.

Happily, since that dark Monday I have found the Lord opening up for me communication with those of other communions. I have been able, in my own small way, to hear out someone else undergoing a stressful situation. And each time I have thought back to the help, tailored to my need, that I received from that Episcopal friend. And I have been prompted in turn to be faithful in extending the same honest help to another hurting fellow minister in the faith.

J. GRANT SWANK, JR.J. Grant Swank, Jr., is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Walpole, Massachusetts.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.