This Sunday, in the greeting line after worship, a woman said to me, "You're losing weight," and poked me in the stomach with her index finger. A bit stunned, I think I replied, "Thank you."
I've been professionally speaking to groups of people for 32 years. I'm used to the physical scrutiny that comes with that. As a high school teacher I received comments about baggy nylons, worn shoes, the length of my hair and the color of my clothes (I learned from a group of girls that I had a "blueberry dress" and a "bubblegum dress").
One would think that as a pastor, comments on my appearance would be less direct. Surprisingly, that's not the case. I have been told that my suit is too big, my skirt needs to be altered, and my alb is not very flattering. I have had comments on the color and style of my clothes, shoes and glasses. If I have any type of scrape or bruise that is visible, I am sure to be quizzed by parishioners.
Because I am a woman of a "certain age", other women will tell me after a worship service if I have had a hot flash (as if I didn't know).
I have had people straighten my collar, tug on my stole, fix my scarf, pat my hair in place, and pick cat hair and lint off me. But Sunday was the first time that someone poked me in the stomach. Actually, I thought that was reserved for pregnant women.
I like to protect my personal space (ask the staff at First United Methodist for more of my opinion on that!), and I'm surprised that a few days after the finger poke that I have not been able to work up sufficient indignation.
I know that being an effective pastor to a community of faith means being authentically open. I am blessed to share my joys and what breaks my heart with my church family. I know that my frank approach opens doors to meaningful conversation and rich pastoral care relationships. Another consequence of openness is an assumed intimacy, accompanied by the unexpected personal comment, complement, and finger poke. I have come to accept the surprising comments and actions of parishioners as a sign of connection.
My regret this week is that the parishioner did not get the "losing weight" part right.