I didn’t have to go to church to learn from a pastor

March 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm (in my head, plays well with others)

I spent the weekend at my parents’ house largely to attend a remarkable Persian New Year celebration with a whole slew of family friends including the women of my mom’s book club. Our hosts managed to fit 40 people into their home for a seated dinner, complete with festive spring place cards. After some mingling, I found my card at a table with a high school acquaintance’s mother and stepfather and our family accountant. Immediately to either side of me were names that made me wary. To my right, a well-known local pastor in his 70s. To my left, his wife.

My parents have been very clear that at age 29, they consider me an adult in every sense of the word, capable of determining when to hold my tongue in a town full of bigots and sexists and small-minded ignorant fools. These days I tend to speak up 99 times out of 100 because it’s who I am, but I also know that this pastor and his wife come from a different era, so I steeled myself to bite my tongue. I expected to be preached to. I expected to be talked down to. I expected closed-minded evangelical jargon. I was being a hypocrite.

I assumed the pastor would tell me that San Francisco is a hotbed of sin. Instead, we talked about his favorite restaurants and running routes. I assumed the pastor’s wife was a homemaker. Instead, I learned that she’s a stockbroker and has been since before it was a common profession for a woman. I assumed they left the South unwillingly. Instead, I learned that they fled from congregations whose members threatened him if he even contemplated integration. I assumed the pastor would have something negative to say about dining in a Muslim home next to a Jew. Instead, I learned that he represented the union of churches at the dedication of my childhood temple.

It was a valuable lesson and one that is still bouncing around my head and heart. I judged people based on what little I knew, just as I assumed they would judge me. It will never happen again.



  1. Windsor Grace said,

    What a great life experience. I really enjoyed reading this. 🙂

    • BS said,

      Now I would even like to hear him preach!

  2. k8 said,

    I love that kind of serendipity.

    • BS said,

      Me too. Always seems to show up when I need it too.

  3. heisschic said,


    very well written. taking the message to heart….

    • BS said,

      Thanks! It has me looking differently at strangers in general.

  4. amber said,

    I know just what you mean, I’m ashamed to say. I always get a bit twitchy and presumptuous around religious types – but it’s awesome that his wife is a stockbroker.

    My grandmother QUIT her church (she’s Lutheran) because they voted to allow gay ministers. I’m embarrassed and ashamed for her. I’ll never tell her, because she’s my elder and she did come from a much different time, and also talking sense into her is like beating one’s head against a brick wall, but…


    • BS said,

      The pastor’s wife said they left Georgia because “he decided his head would break before the brick wall would.”

  5. Jess said,

    My best friend’s mother is a minister. And while I get tetchy around any sort of religious anything (like Amber), her mom and her values blow me away. She preaches that acceptance is at the core of their religion – she refused to take a ministry job at a church that would not bury gays in their graveyard. So…it’s an almost interesting commentary that we’ve almost become so inundated by the religious right than when we meet the religious liberal who is non-preachy, we are caught off-guard.

    Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed reading this!

    • BS said,

      It’s an interesting commentary that the non-religious are now basically afraid of the religious.

  6. Nilu said,

    Rob’s grandfather had a huge celebration held for him after 50 years of ministry. What really blew me away was how many different faiths and groups were represented there! Turns out he marched with MLK, for woman’s rights, for Jewish rights and so much more. Considering Rob and I had only been dating for six months at that time, it was a powerful and important experience for me! I definitely stopped worrying about them judging me as a non-Christian Iranian.

    A religious teacher has such influence… it’s sad that so many preach hatred, especially when you meet someone who preaches tolerance and love.

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