Unexpected Kindness

I can count the number of times I’ve run into a parishioner while I’m practicing or competing in the bar pool league – in an actual bar – on zero fingers.   I’ve invited a parishioner to join me for a beer and a game of pool, but never bumped into one.  Given the demographics of my congregation, age-wise, it just isn’t very likely, and so it hasn’t happened in the eight years I’ve been playing.

Until this past Tuesday evening.

I had just arrived at the bar we’d be competing at.  I showed up early to practice, and because it’s one of my favorite bars to play in because of the number of tables, their overall good condition, and the general ambiance of  the place.  Low-key.  I know the bartenders and they know me – or at least what my drink of choice is.  I enter, do a cursory scan of the place, find an open table, open my drink, and start setting up my gear.

She started speaking when my back was turned, and I turned around surprised to see one of my parishioners.  One I haven’t seen for a while.  Turns out, she and her husband relocated to Montana recently.  He’s been retired for a few weeks now.  She suspects she’ll follow suite in a few more weeks.  She raved about the beauty of the state, but more importantly, the culture.  Born and raised in California, she confided that she no longer feels welcome in this state.  Her faith, her values – all those things are mocked and derided by the representatives in government whether local, state, or national.  To live in a place where Christianity is more part and parcel of the atmosphere is an amazing experience she confides.

There might be, for some pastors, a moment of panic.  To be caught in a bar.  Drink in hand.  Tsk tsk.  But then again, for the past eight years my parishioners have known about my hobby.  They’ve heard a few salient stories about passing conversations and encounters with the many different folks I run into.  It’s no secret, but it’s still an environment where I don’t expect to bump into parishioners.

I’m happy for her and them, asking questions, glad to know why she hasn’t been around recently.

She pauses, and after a moment, says You don’t always get the chance to tell a pastor you’ve appreciated them.  But I get to now.  And she proceeded to say some very kind things.  Encouraging things.  Affirming things.  A 10-minute conversation in a bar where I never expected to bump into anyone from my vocation, only to be surprised and gifted in an unexpected way.

It was a good night.  We won.  I won.  I moved up the rankings in my division,  Poised to break into the top ten rankings if things go well the last few weeks of the season.  All nice things, but not as nice as someone going out of their way to say some good things about what I do.  I’m glad she did, and that she and her husband are happily settling into a place that appreciates who they are.

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