Lutheran pastor Katie Hines-Shah
  • Lutheran pastor Katie Hines-Shah

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Katie Hines-Shah, Lutheran pastor.

“When I’m at a party and someone finds out I’m a pastor, they generally get nervous about the fact that they swore at some point during our conversation. Then either they don’t want to talk to me anymore, or they want to confess their sins to me. Not like sin sins, but like, ‘why I don’t go to church.’

“I use the classic pastor line when people tell me they don’t believe in Jesus: ‘Tell me about the Jesus you don’t believe in; I probably don’t believe in him either.’ So if they say they don’t go to church because of intolerance, I can fully concur that that is a crappy church, and I wouldn’t want to be part of it.

“As a woman pastor, you always need to dress up, or people think you’re the secretary. I wear my clerical collar with a suit and heels and lipstick and my hair up.

“Also, a lot of people assume that I don’t have child care. I’ll go visit a parishioner at the hospital and they’ll be like, ‘Where’s your daughter?’ Well, she’s at day care, because I’m doing my job. I don’t go hauling my two-year-old around to funerals and hospitals. My male colleagues don’t get that question. There is a plus side: I am totally allowed to pick up a baby or hold a toddler or hug a crying teenager in a way that might look suspicious for a man.

“A lot of people have the image of a pastor as working only on Sundays. Nope. I manage a building. I oversee personnel. I work with music and with education and with outside groups. It’s a full-time job and more. I get four Sundays off a year and four weeks of vacation. That seems generous until you consider that the average person gets 52 weekends a year, plus holidays, plus vacation.

“And I think people don’t know what churches are for except on Sundays. Well, my church is the site of a homeless shelter every Saturday, all summer long, and if we were to stop doing that, it’s not like the Arby’s down the street would pick it up. I currently have multiple precincts that vote at my church, because it’s not like the local Macy’s is gonna open up their space for voting.

“This is one of those things that keeps me up at night. The church universally in the United States is in decline. It doesn’t matter if you’re mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, or even evangelical; churches are getting smaller and closing. Well, here’s the thing: When one of my parishioners finds out they have a terminal cancer diagnosis, they can see me in a heartbeat, and I’ll organize meals for them, and I’ll hold their widow’s hand before the funeral. This is not something you can hire out. You can’t get a therapist to cover this for you. I know the doctors do this on Grey’s Anatomy, but they don’t in real life.

“I never leave the house without seeing someone from church. I remember once I was at the Y, and you were allowed to have boys up to age six in the women’s locker room. I came out of the shower in my altogether, and there was one of my parishioner’s sons looking right at me. Well, shoot, how am I going to teach this kid confirmation? The only saving grace was that my hair was down. I think that was more shocking to him than the fact that I was naked.”