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I received my first pastoral visit when I was 5 or 6 years old. My father, along with my grandparents, had been counting the offering downstairs in the fellowship hall of Fieldale Methodist Church. I usually stayed with them because I loved getting to pull the noisy handle on the old adding machine. However, on that particular day, I went outside to entertain myself around the parking lot between the church and the parsonage. 

At some point I went to the family car, opened the front door and proceeded to get my little finger caught in it as the door closed. I must have screamed loudly because the pastor’s spouse was quickly at my side. She wrapped my finger and took me to my dad. Later that Sunday afternoon, the Rev. Monroe Iglehart climbed the stairs to our back porch and told my mother he had come to see me, to make sure I was okay and to pray for quick healing of my little finger. Fifty-five years later, I can still vividly picture the Rev. Iglehart standing at our backdoor, his felt hat in hand. 

I was not able to thank the Rev. Iglehart personally for the impact that visit and his ministry had upon my life. In his memory, today I have the opportunity to thank you. I wish that as part of Clergy Appreciation Month I could have written each clergy person in our conference a personal note. However, that is just not possible this year but please know that these words come straight from my heart to you.
 

Thank you for shepherding the 5-year-olds, the 95-year-olds and everyone in between in your congregation and community. We do not say it enough: thank you for your daily work to nurture our spiritual well-being as you also manage the functions of the church. With all the responsibilities and expectations you carry, you continue to laugh and celebrate with us through our most joyous moments. You remain by our sides to cry with and see us through our most painful stages of life. There are no words of appreciation strong enough to express the deep gratitude that you deserve.
 

You bear our stress and burdens, yet we as laity time and again fail to do the same for you. Too often we forget that you have a life, family and other responsibilities; we think your ministry is all about us. Know that your sacrifices and commitment to ministry with those of us in the pews and larger community are acknowledged and appreciated.  Thank you for your compassion and inspiration, for the hope you continue to instill as you preach the Gospel message. Know, too, that we recognize how hard you have had to work during this time of pandemic. A simple “thank you” is not enough.
 

My prayer on this Clergy Appreciation Day is that we as laity can minister to you during this continuing season of change and uncertainty. I pray that we can offer the support and encouragement that you need, along with joy and laughter to lighten the load.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to become the laborers you are working so hard to equip to spread the message of God’s love and example of Jesus throughout our communities.  May we grow to be true partners in ministry with you, seeking and living out God’s vision for the church together. I pray that we will become more active, involved participants in sharing the load of your ministry. 

I give thanks to God for the calling upon your life and for your individual gifts, talents and skills. Thank you for leading with courage and strength during these anxious and uncertain times. 

May you find the rest and renewal – and support from us laity –  that you need to visit that next child playing in the parking lot. 

With sincere gratitude,
Martha Stokes
Virginia Conference Lay Leader