In a Heep of Trouble

You bet you are pastor.  You are in a heap of trouble if one member tells you another member needs pastoral care and you don’t act on it.  I know so because Uriah Heep showed me so.

Uriah Heep to fans of 70s rock and roll is a band famous for such tunes as “Easy Living,” but they took their name from a Charles Dickens’s character in David Copperfield. He is an arch villain precisely because he is so Machiavellian in thinking while being so ‘umble’ outwardly.  He’s humble to the point of obsequiousness, but always he has an agenda that benefits him and hurts someone else.

In the book an older man is married to a woman probably 25-30 years his junior.  Uriah Heep, and others, are suspicious that she is having some sort of dalliance with a man her own age, but as there is no proof, no one says anything.  Because it will ultimately benefit Uriah and because he likes to inflict pain, all the while being ever so humble, he tells the man about his wife’s secret longing for a man her own age.  This crushes the man.

Previous to this Uriah has told the hero of the story, David Copperfield, of his suspicions about the man’s wife and says that surely Copperfield has had them too.  Copperfield, who loathes Uriah and sees through his heap of humility and manipulations, grudgingly acknowledges he has wondered about it.  When Uriah makes the disclosure to the older man, Copperfield is there too and Uriah makes it sound as if Copperfield has believed the same thing he has all along.

What does this have to do with the pastor’s heap of trouble?  When a member comes to you with the information that they believe someone else is in need of pastoral care, a number of things are going on.  First, they are inducing you to break the first rule of pastoral care: You are not talking about the person’s spiritual well being who is before you but about some absent party.  Second, they are engaging in behavior not acceptable even among plumbers and electricians.  If I were to call up either of these tradesman and say, “My neighbor has a stopped up toilet or a shorted out lamp; you should call on them.”  After laughing himself silly, he would hang up on me.  Third, they have Uriah Heep-ed you and you’re in a world of hurt if you do or don’t act.

If you do call, you will hear things like this: “It wasn’t a big deal.”  “We didn’t want to bother you.”  “We would call if we needed you.”  If you don’t call, you don’t care about your flock in the eyes of the busybody, and since he probably has told the person whom he has brought before you that he is going to call you, that person too can feel that way.

In any case pastoral care suffers.  In my letter to the parents whose children will be attending confirmation class, I tell them that what I am doing is as important as brain surgery.  If a brain surgeon will not tolerate interruption or interference when he’s performing delicate brain surgery, I shouldn’t be expected to tolerate children who interfere with my delicate caring of souls.

That’s what the busybody has done.  He, or more often she, has put you in the position of being a telephone caller who treats the person they called as if they were the ones who called you.  The person you’re calling is the one who needs pastoral care (and this might actually be the case), but since they have said no such thing to you, you have to find a way to get that out of them. But what you’re doing is forcing a rose bud to blossom, or force-feeding a sheep, or at worse casting your pearls before swine.  You’re a plumper or electrician trying to fix what a person doesn’t think broken.

Oh how wonderfully it works when the person calls who has the clogged drain, shorted circuit, or troubled soul.  Then the Seelsorge, which is a German word meaning the care of souls, goes exactly as it should.  The pastor sees where the rose blossom needs tending, what food the sheep needs, and he can cast those pearls of grace with abandon.

This problem didn’t start in the 70s with Uriah Heep the band but dates to the 19th century time of Uriah Heep the character.  The 19th century LCMS, founded by Walther who came out of Pietism, has this sort of warp.  It believed that a pastor should call no matter how he heard of someone in need.  The other Lutherans said that a pastor only called when summoned by the person in need.  He didn’t even go to the hospital when he was told by someone else that so and so was there.

Try doing that now and you’re in for a heap of trouble. I don’t see anyway of not making the call.  My aim in this article is to expose the problems brought on by modern day Uriah Heeps.  Unlike their namesake, they probably aren’t acting from bad motives, but they end up doing to the pastor what Heep did to Copperfield.  They put him in a position where he can end up hurting the very person they wish him to help.





About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
This entry was posted in For Pastors Only. Bookmark the permalink.