What pastors ought to know beyond seminary

Veteran Florida minister shares tips learned over four decades

by the Rev. Dr. David Imhoff | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Rev. Dr. David Imhoff

LOUISVILLE — I graduated from seminary over 46 years ago and I have served in very large urban congregations, suburban large churches, campus ministry, hospital chaplaincy, congregations with schools and nursing homes — and in Miami, where about 70 percent of the folks are Latino. So I have learned a great deal over my career that was never brought up in seminary. My thesis therefore is that all effective pastors need to be prepared to know and be aware of resources that the folks we minister to need to survive.

One day recently I was eating at my regular breakfast nook. The waitress who knows who I am and what I do told me her son was shot in the hip after a couple of guys broke into the hotel where he and his wife were staying with the aim of kidnapping her and selling her into slavery. Her son fought them off, and one of the two has been apprehended. But here is this woman’s real concern: Where can her son and his wife, who are experiencing homelessness, go for help?

It so happens that there is a network of congregations here in Jacksonville, Fla., called Family Promise, where her son and his wife can stay for 30 days or so until they get back on their feet. There’s also a ministry at the beach that can assist them for everything but housing. Pastors need to know about these resources.

I have referred women to shelters when they’ve been the victim of domestic violence. Do you know where your shelter is? I am helping a mother of an adult child with a disability to obtain a medical waiver so the daughter can go to a daycare during the day while the mother returns to work. Do you know where to refer people for food, clothing, furniture, bus passes or housing?

What about counseling that some low-income folks can use beyond what a pastor is capable of offering? Most cities have an ecumenical counseling center. Where is Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous? Where do they go for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other disability income sources?

What about group homes for the mentally ill? Where are the job centers for retraining? What about transitional housing? How about couples getting married and the certificate a pastor can provide (typically certifying they’ve completed a premarital preparation course) to make their license cheaper and quicker?

How about refugee services? Do you know which church agencies provide this ministry?

These are just a few of the resources I have worked with and continue to work with. One crucial task for a pastor is to become active with a local ecumenical group of colleagues who share resources and support. “Lone Ranger” pastors could find themselves cut off when they need help the most.

It pays to stay in touch with a mentor pastor, something that the Academy of Parish Clergy, for which I am a board member, advocates and provides.

As I was thinking about what I have done over the past 45 or so years, I thought newer pastors might use these tips.

The Rev. Dr. David E. Imhoff is a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America now serving as a part-time interim at Ft. Caroline Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Fla.

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