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Caring for Souls in a Time of Stress

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Now that anxiety has eased like a fog into every corner of our society, pastors sense the added pressure of their spiritual work.

And now that anxiety has eased like a fog into every corner of our society, they sense the added pressure of their spiritual work. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
The attack on America now 18 months past left an indelible scar on our collective psyche.  
We are “on edge,” one commentator said, noting the change from yellow to orange in the color-coded terror alert.   
There is “chatter” in cyberspace, experts tell us, enough to warrant increased patrols in public places, cancellation of travel plans and purchase of water and duct tape. 
Each day brings word of yet another military unit called into action. Hardly a family does not have someone known or loved as a frontline responder.   
We awake each morning wondering if the early news will be that of Muslim martyrs exploding bombs in some urban center, or of American planes taking out targets on the outskirts of Baghdad. 
An Indiana pastor e-mails me and scores of others: “My husband Mike is in the National Guard. … His unit was activated to active duty on January 1st. He spent January in training. … Two days ago he left the US to join the forces in Kuwait. He will be living in a tent for an undetermined amount of time.” 
“Please remember Mike in prayer,” she continues. “Your prayers have already surrounded us in peace and strength.” 
In such times, a pastor’s vocation is clearer and surer than before: to minister to the uncertainties and insecurities of the people. 
The preaching of the Word of God must continue, of course, but with greater emphasis on those words which ease the anxiety of each and every one: “Trust in God,” the psalmist said.  
The administration of congregational life demands time and attention, but with renewed focus on the care of souls: “Cast all your cares upon God, for he cares for you,” the Apostle Paul wrote years ago. 
A preacher’s calling, it has been said, is to trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled. While addressing the moral dilemma posed by the possibility of war, the pastor, as shepherd of the flock, must recognize that most people need spiritual comfort.

It is not just the war on terrorism that has bestowed our trouble and set in motion the climate of distress. Corporate scandals destroyed careers and optimism, and left us all depressed. The stock market has shrunk investments, retirement accounts and endowments. Individuals and institutions are going bankrupt; unemployment and job insecurity is widespread.  
Then, the Columbia exploded. It represented so much of what is good about our country: adventure, excellence, achievement, cooperation and discovery. Yet in a matter of minutes, all was lost, further unsettling the soul of a nation. 
In the memorial service, the president became a pastor to us all: “We can pray,” he said. The music included the words familiar to millions: “What a friend we have in Jesus; all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” 
We all owe a debt of gratitude to our ministers. They are the men and women among us who care for our souls, who prepare the prayers and select the songs that address the uncertainties and assuage the anxieties that besiege the spirit. 
“O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home!” 
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.