Observations on a Pastoral Style

by Rev. Jim Sundholm

He offered children a shelter when their parents just didn’t come home, used the church van to help families move, drove the route to pick up children for preschool and Sunday services, took children to school when they missed the bus, directed Trailblazers, taught Sunday School and Confirmation, led midweek Bible study and prayer, preached on Sunday morning, cut the grass, offered care in crisis circumstances of varying severity, and more. A theme ran through all these actions: “I just want to share God’s love with people—to let them know that God cares about them—that I care about them.”

A model of pastoral ministry, not the only one, but one genuine, freely lived with integrity to one’s person. This has been the ministry model of Pastor Willard Berggren. I feel indebted to have been partnered with him for three years. A parishioner once said, “Ya know, I think he really would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it”

No one’s retirement should pass too quietly, particularly when it’s one of our great lovers! Karl Menninger, in his book Love Against Hate, comments that “love is absorbed in the partial or complete neutralization of the destruction instinct.” Love has accomplished that in Pastor Berggren, and he allowed love to flow through himself to others. Thereby, he participated in the neutralizing of their destructive instincts. In conversation, we discussed Bonhoeffer’s call that we “become little Christs to one another”—such a model Willard accomplished.

While the comments and counter-comments are exchanged about Pastors as Shepherds or Ranchers, called to “come and die” or enter the privilege of an integrated life, considered as a professional or one who simply comes alongside as a “wounded healer,” Pastor Berggren’s model of love and service deserves our deepest reflection and admiration as the pastoral identity debate continues.