by Patricia Farris

An old-fashioned word for pastor is curate, a healer of souls.

One would think this would be a foundational, formative identity. But it is quickly passed over or set aside or simply forgotten in the daily stress and busyness
of things to do, programs to lead, and budgets to make. I’ve never been asked in an annual evaluation, “Did you cure souls of the precious people of this community this year?”

The word curate calls us back, calls us deep, to the vocation Jesus invites us into in the first place—to fish for people, to touch their souls with love and grace and healing beyond their imagining.

You’d think we would learn. After all, it’s more the norm than the exception that a person's carefully planned out week is disrupted by the pain and messiness of life—the call to come to the bedside of someone nearing the end of earthly life, the rush to the hospital to weep with the young parents of a stillborn child, the unscheduled visit of a congregant still reeling from the invitation into forgiveness from last week’s sermon.

You’d think we’d know.

Granted, Jesus lived long before the days of cleverly crafted digital devices to assist in the plotting and parsing and documenting of the use of time. Still, none of the Gospels reveal his daily or weekly planned agenda:

Tuesday, 17th week.

Breakfast with key leader.

Strategy with disciples.

New sandals.

Public community forum.

Conflict intervention session with disciples.

Dinner with Mom.

Apparently for the evangelists, the really important things were what happened along the way, regardless of Jesus’s plans—the woman touching His
garment, the friend whose brother has just died, the crowds who press Him to continue long past the stated hour of adjournment, the story He calls to mind
and needs to tell, the bread to be broken and shared, some moments apart to rest and pray.

We are curates as we move among our people. The story of Jesus's life shows us again and again that ministry is about paying attention in the moment. It is about noticing the openings for conversation, the ache for acknowledgment and validation. Sometimes it is about finding those few needful words. Sometimes it
is about naming the gifts—forgiveness, grace, promise, assurance, peace, hope. Sometimes it is about receiving the tears and anger. And sometimes it is about being willing to sit in silence for as long as it takes.

We are curates as we preach. Very often I am reminded that if healing comes, it is through the gift of Christ working in and through us rather than something we
had planned or intended.

“It is Christ who lives in me,” Paul wrote to the Galatians (2:20). A man came to me some weeks after a sermon I had preached. I hadn’t particularly remembered it, having raced on to the work and activities of the subsequent weeks. When he quoted parts of it back to me over coffee, it didn’t even sound much like anything I would have actually said, or at least not how I would have said it. But what he heard in his heart had changed his life. He had travelled across country to sit at his mother’s graveside, where he wept, was able to forgive her for painful parts of his childhood, and laid down the anger and resentment he had carried forward until that day.

Usually healing is not so dramatic or even obvious. Healing happens when one struggling with addiction finds courage to go another day. Healing happens when old animosities are set aside. Healing happens when a person hears that who she or he is, is enough. Healing happens when a frightened child lights up at hearing her name.

We are curates as we administer the sacraments. As the children came forward to receive communion one Sunday, one new little girl looked at the plate of bread, prepared in small pieces to be dipped into the cup. She looked me in the eye and asked, “Can I take more than one? I really need it this week!”

She moved on gripping a handful of bread. The outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Healing. And strength for the journey.


Curate Healer of Souls graphic
PATRICIA FARRIS serves as senior minister at First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica in Santa Monica, California. She is the author of Five Faces of Ministry: Pastor, Parson, Healer, Prophet, Pilgrim, published in 2015 by Abingdon Press.

Copyright © 2015 by Abingdon Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.