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‘You don’t know my name, do you?’

Man putting name tag on shirt

Retired pastor John E. Harnish writes that loneliness affects many of us, and we can do our part as members of the body of Christ to let others know they’re seen and loved.

Retired Pastor, Michigan Conference

When you are a visiting preacher, you can learn a lot in a hurry. Judy and I were the guests in a small church, and while I was preparing for worship, she was talking with an older lady who immediately began to tell her about her experience with the former pastor.

It seems she had been seriously ill, in and out of the hospital several times. She had called the church, but the pastor said visiting wasn’t really his job. “You can pray for yourself,” he said.

After about a year, she made it to church, and the pastor greeted her. He told her it was good to see her back again, seemingly not remembering her illnesses. Finally, she said, “You don’t know my name, do you?” He fumbled a bit and said, “You’re Bill’s sister, right?” “No,” she said, “I’m not.”

Of course, the notion that visiting people in the hospital is not the pastor’s job is shockingly insensitive. Did he forget John Wesley’s historic question, which has been asked of every preacher since the beginning of Methodism: “Will you visit from house to house?” Deeper still, the conversation painfully points to the need to be known, the need for someone to know our name.

I’m an identical twin.

When we were little, no one except our mother could tell us apart. It didn’t help that twins dressed alike back then. Jim and I did through high school, including dreadful plaid prom tuxes that made us look like pale imitations of The Temptations. In college, we both felt the need to be known as individuals and ended up moving to opposite ends of the country to live out our lives. Even so, sometimes folks still get us confused.

At times, all of us struggle with remembering names.

In my last church, which had a couple thousand members, there were folks I never got to know by name, as hard as I tried. That’s why I am a believer in name tags. Names matter because people matter.

A recent article in The New York Times reported on what they called “entrenched loneliness,” growing out of the COVID-19 years of isolation. Add to that the impact of social media, which connects us at one level but disconnects us from genuine human interaction. Loneliness becomes all too familiar for too many people.

A pastor who feels it isn’t his job to visit people has no idea what being a pastor is all about, but it is a ministry we can all share.

In describing the new church born at Pentecost, Luke says in the book of Acts: “They were all together in one place. . . . and had all things in common” (vv. 1, 44). Or, you may prefer the theme song from the TV show Cheers: “Sometimes you wanna go / where everybody knows your name / and they’re always glad you came.”

Yes, we do.

Last Updated on June 6, 2024

The Michigan Conference