Post Author: Eliza Cramer Jaremko
When the pastor’s phone rings, you never know who or what is on the other end of the line. It could be good news—the birth of a baby, an invitation to collaborate on a community initiative, or a good medical report. Often, though, answering the phone as a pastor can be a bit more fraught. We are called when accidents happen, when assistance is needed, and when problems arise. I often find that I brace myself when the phone rings, without even realizing it.
A few months ago, I answered to hear an unfamiliar voice. It was my hair salon. “Your stylist has moved away. Could we schedule you with someone else?” I was silent on the other end of the phone, taking in the information. My mind reeled: “How could this be? I knew nothing about this! She never even told me she was thinking of moving. How could she just up and leave?”
I was entirely surprised by my reaction – why was I being so overdramatic? Yet, in a very real way, her move felt like a real loss. A friend gone. A relationship just plucked out of my life. I couldn’t bear the thought of scheduling with someone else, so I canceled the appointment.
I had been with my hair stylist over 7 years – the same amount of time I’ve served in my second call as a solo pastor. Although my call has been the same, my personal life has drastically changed. I’ve gone from a 30-year-old, single, young clergy woman to a late-30s, married with child, not-so-young clergy woman. My hair stylist had been with me through all the changes.
She knew me before I established a community here, and offered an open heart and listening ear. She helped me find the right professional yet hip looking hairdo. She helped me refine my look as I met, dated, and got engaged to my now husband. She made me look simply beautiful on my wedding day. When I became a mom, but couldn’t find a sitter, she and her colleagues entertained my newborn so I could have the much needed self-care of a good haircut.
Every time I went in, she hugged me tight, intimately washed and massaged my head, and skillfully cut my thick frizzy hair into something beautiful. Every time I went in, her first question was: “Is everyone behaving at church?” My stylist was one of the people in my life who always accepted me just as I am. She was one of those rare people who not only respected my vocation, but reveled in it.
I only realized how much she meant to me as the months went by and my usually well-groomed hair grew into a long unmanageable mop atop my head. Not only did I miss the way I looked, but I missed her. I felt sad that I’d never hear more about her family or her travels or hear her contagious laugh. So I decided to seek her out and send a goodbye message via Facebook Messenger. Then, as I typed her first name into the search, I realized something: I didn’t even know her last name. She knew me intimately, but how well did I really know her? Of course she didn’t tell me she was moving. We weren’t friends. She was my stylist.
As pastors, we are stylists for the soul. We have intimate relationships with God’s people that are often one-sided. So many times, folks have expressed a connection with me that I cannot feel toward them. We know our church members intimately, but how well do they really know us? We aren’t friends. I’m their Pastor.
Yet my love for them is real and strong. I am vulnerable with them, so they can be vulnerable with me. I am present with them at their most difficult and most joyous moments. I intimately listen, washing away tears and massaging their heartstrings. I try to cut away the loose ends of their lives that keep them from living fully in God’s love. I’m their pastor and I accept them just as they are.
I know these same dear people cannot support me in the way I support them. I won’t consult them about a decision to move. I can’t call them when I need a shoulder to cry on. Our relationship is beautiful, and yet it’s complicated, as all one-sided relationships are. I wonder if there are congregants – or even visitors – who felt close enough to me to send me a message only to realize that my name isn’t just “Pastor Eliza.”
Over the years, I’ve often felt guilty about the one-way relationships we must live within in our ministry. I have felt that pull of wanting to give more of myself, but knowing that I can’t. My stylist has taught me an important lesson: these relationships are gifts. While we serve our people, other truly special people are serving us. Sometimes we are the helpers and sometimes we are the helped.
I let three months pass before I made an appointment with a new stylist. As I sat in her chair, she asked where I worked. I braced myself and told her, “I’m a Presbyterian Pastor.” “Oh wow,” she said, stopping in her tracks. “I didn’t know they allowed women to do that.” Here was a new relationship: evangelism.
Rev. Eliza Cramer Jaremko is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Haddon Heights, New Jersey. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, she celebrated her 10th ordination anniversary in 2018. Eliza lives with her husband and two-year-old daughter, all of whom have heads of thick, big hair.
Image by: Sue Burrough at Sue B Photography
Used with permission