He started slowly, like an old cargo plane, lumbering down a runway, belching, shuddering, struggling to get airborne. You hold your breath until lift off.He started, “Oh boy….oh wow….um….well….ok….Dear….um….God ….”When I asked Bobby** to lead off in prayer, he looked panicked, like he’d never prayed out loud. But he manned up, bowed his head and began.

I don’t remember the content, but was awe-struck at the tone—deep, sincere, thoughtful. Awkward, halting words poured from a heart long familiar with pain. I was on holy ground, Jesus in our midst, glimpsing something as rich as I have seen in my 60 years. Bobby deals with mental handicaps and mental illness. Slow-moving, he struggles to engage; at times, his depression is debilitating. Neither eye focuses, each wandering about, leaving you unsure where to look while talking. A motel fixture, we have grown to love him as a part of our flock. It was Easter Sunday and we were gathered for our monthly meal. The crowd is small—several sick, a few in crisis, others with family. Three from our team—Dave, Philip and myself—are at a table with Bobby. I heard his story—mom died early, abused by a step-mother, into foster care, long homeless, now stable in a motel. But no family and few friends. Hard, lonely years of struggle and pain.I asked about his recent bout of depression. He said he was doing better, launching into a description of how Satan wants to keep us down, telling us we are no good but that Jesus is always with us, even when He seems absent. Passionate, he clenches both hands into fists and raises them: “We get knocked down but we gotta get up! We gotta get up! We gotta get up!” I high-fived him and said he was preaching to me, preaching to the preacher. The three of us sat, transfixed by his passion and truth, sensing the power of the moment.The rest of us shared needs, and we prayed, Bobby leading off, lumbering, lifting us into arms of the Father.

Prayer done, I was already wondering who the real pastor was in our little church of four. Then more happened. Philip mentioned Psalm 23 and we started talking about the valley of death, about pain and death always looming over us. Yet God with us, we fear no evil, knowing we will dwell in His presence forever. We talked of heaven and Bobby said, in his odd, halting way, how amazing there was “a place to go” after death, even for “someone as ornery as me.” He kept saying those words over and over—“a place to go…someone as ornery as me…because of Jesus.”I have formally been a pastor for over 33 years but have functioned as one since my late teens—teaching, encouraging, challenging, praying. Dave and Philip, while not formally ordained, function here and elsewhere as pastors. None of us perfect, yet all strong, healthy, godly, all able to pastor these most broken. All used to leading.But that night, in those moments, in that place, Bobby was our pastor. The most obviously broken, he had a word from the Lord—“we get knocked down but we gotta get up.” He prayed us into the heart of the Father. He declared the heaven Jesus bought for us—“a place to go, even for ornery people.” The grace of Easter proclaimed by Pastor Bobby.I really needed a pastor that night.

Diane and I had both been down with a week-long bug. We had scrambled here from an Easter meal with family, feeling again the odd stress of moving between two worlds, one rich, the other poor. Worse, I was dealing with massive spikes in my blood pressure with numbers frightening enough to wonder whether I should be at the emergency room. But worried, weary and sick, maybe even ornery, I went to church, Church on Colfax, and Bobby pastored me. His words and prayer brought grace, challenge and hope, leading me into the arms of my Father.The night done, Bobby got up, put on his long black leather coat, one he found hanging on a bus bench, patted his full belly, almost like Santa, took one last look at us, eyes wandering about, and headed out into the night. For all the world, he looked to me like a pastor who had done his good work on Easter Sunday, loving his flock well, and now it was time to go rest.

**Names changed to protect identity.PS: Since some of you will ask, I went to my Doctor the next day and am now on blood pressure medicine, doing much better. Grateful for modern medicine and your prayers.