Friday, May 18, 2012

What Priests Want You to Know

A few posts have popped up this week on our radar about what pastors/priests/ministers and the like want their parishioners to know about what goes on between Sundays and, for that matter, what goes on during Sundays.  We figured this looked like a prime place for us to wade into the water, so here we go.

1.  Your minister has a personal life.  Just like your teachers in school and your doctor, ministers and priests have a life that existed long before they were ordained.  So, just like you, they have family issues and car trouble and dishes that sit in the sink far too long and children who were up sick all night before the Easter Day services.  Just like regular people, life can be joyous and overwhelming.  And we often are not able to share that with parishioners.  A quote I saw on a bumper sticker said, "Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  Yes, indeed. 

2.  Sundays are long days for us.  We are on, and I mean Beyonce at a concert on, from the time we step into the church until the last person leaves.  We are responsible for the liturgy, the sermon, and the climate control (because no one in the church agrees on temperature).  People tell us things, from random comments about the football game to significant news about their lives.  We often are teaching a class, as well.  A retired priest I knew said every hour clergy work on Sundays is the equivalent of working 2.5 hours any other day. 

3.  Clergy have to flip switches in ways that are not good.  Every priest I know has many stories of going from a parishioner's hosptital room where the family has gathered to say goodbye to a finance committee meeting.  It is the nature of what we do.  Remember when your minister takes a morning off, s/he may be giving herself or himself time to reflect on all that has happened because that's the only time she has.

4.  We miss the parishioners we bury.  Just because we're preaching the sermon and celebrating the liturgy like we're totally together doesn't mean we aren't crying on the inside.  Clergy do not live day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year with the people they serve and not grieve when those beloved people die.  Again, grief needs her space and time, so allow your minister to take that time (or remind them to take that time.)

5.  We are not particularly good at disappointment.     Perhaps it's a personality type, but most clergy I know will work until their fingers fall off for the community they love and serve.  Just a note - this is not good.  God jerked my attention to this fact a week before Palm Sunday, when I just hit a wall.  We cannot do everything we want to do.  We only have a certian amount of energy, which means we, like the rest of the humanity, have to make choices about where and how our energy can be shared.  This will always mean something that someone really, really wants to see done in the church will not be done.  And we hate that, but there you go.

6. Life happens at the church every day of the week.  A few things that happen when the flock is not at the church:  planning liturgies, writing sermons, taking phone calls, meeting with people who need to be heard, visiting those who are sick, working with community groups, dealing with the physical plant, reading emails, and rearranging schedules when the unexpected happens, as it often does.  Churches are busy, busy places every day of the week.  Which also means it's always better to make an appointment rather than just stop by if you really need to talk. 

7.  Many clergy only get one day off a week.  For many of us, things happen on Saturday, so our Saturdays are not always a day off.  And it's also a day for sermon-writing because often the week gets too busy for quiet time to write. 

8.  Church life is often feast or famine.  Just like regular life, life in the church either seems to run at 100 mph or quite slow.  There are weeks that 80 hours is not unusual for me, and I am quite thankful for the ones that require about 20.  And when the slow weeks come, having a parish that empowers their clergy to take that time and relax is a gift.  We really love what we do, but need down time to re-energize and reflect.

9.  We don't remember what you tell us on Sunday.  Please, email us or write it down.

10. We make mistakes.  Yes, indeed.  Forgive us when we do.  Love us anyway.

62 comments:

Eileen said...

Outstanding! So true.

Cricket Park, VicarVirtual said...

#9 should be #1.

Julie+ said...

Oh, amen! And to your list may I add: we don't know all the answers, and sometimes the answers we do know (or have to give) are not the answers you wanted to hear. But neither of those things means that we are uneducated, uncaring, unsupportive, or clueless. It just means sometimes we don't know or sometimes we can't give you the answer you want.

mibi52/ The Rev. Mary Brennan Thorpe said...

A lot of truth here. We all do our best, but often it isn't enough to some folks or to ourselves. I wonder how others have taught their parishioners about what it is like to "be the pastor" and how relationships between parishioners and pastor are not the same as 1)employer/employee; 2) parent/child; 3)doctor/patient; 4) codependent/codependent. We are equally beautiful and imperfect partners in the work of the Reign of God, no more, no less.

mibi52/ The Rev. Mary Brennan Thorpe said...

A lot of truth here. Thanks for affirming some of the challenges.

Martha Spong said...

My hardest #3 came as a fairly new pastor and on call chaplain. The person on call was a member of the laity and had CPE, but when called to baptize a dying premature infant, she felt unable and called me since I was on the backup list. I got the call at 5:30, went to the hospital where I could hear the very young mother's keening cry from outside two sets of doors to the NICU, performed the baptism, and still showed up at a Trustees meeting at 7.
Then I went out for a drink.

Scott Gunn said...

Most everything on this list is also true -- to varying degrees -- for everyone who has a job. While clergy have particular challenges and gifts, sometimes I think we convince ourselves that our vocation is harder than that of everyone else. We do this a our peril.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Great minds? http://www.benreed.net/index.php/2012/05/15/10-things-you-forget-about-pastors-2/?utm_source=&utm_medium=&utm_campaign=

Rachel Hackenberg said...

Lovely, thank you. Helpful when we tell one another this (in addition to reminding our congregations of it).

Beth said...

Scott, I don't think this list is about "look how hard we work" - I think it's about "hey, you know those things that are true of your job? they apply here too". One or two of these might be about differences between clergy work and other work (many jobs don't have one day that's massively different from the others, for instance), but I think this list is mostly about asking people (including ourselves, sometimes) to recognize that getting ordained didn't make us superheroes.

John Hilpert said...

A lot of truth here. Being an introvert, I always told people that if you don't see me write something down, it isn't going to happen - that doubled on Sundays. I would invite a re-phrasing of # 7. "I often do not take more than 1 day off a week, and thereby regularly violate the 4th commandment." In my 14 years of church work, my pastor and I wonder if one of the best things we did most weeks was to take close to 2 days off with 1 being Sabbath - we put a big "X" through that date (different for each of us) and then bragged about it to the congregation. We were not available (OK the church secretary could reach us but she was the only one with that number and she rarely used it.)

Eric Funston said...

I say #9 every Sunday morning: "Thank you for telling me, but I'm sorry I won't remember this. Please email me or call the office tomorrow morning. If I'm not in, tell the secretary or leave a voice mail." A big "AMEN" to the whole list.

Crimson Rambler said...

Amen, Amen, Amen to (especially) #9. I used to say, "The brain here? not a 'tabula rasa,' more of an ETCH A SKETCH -- I give it one teeny shake and it's EMPTY. so... email, voice mail as soon as you get home, and then we'll BOTH remember what you just told me."

Vickie Christensen said...

There are challenges I see to serving in this capacity. I often wonder how this job is whittled down to hours. How can a work week be predetermined to a given amount of half-time hours that would possibly preclude sitting with a dying parish friend or attending a fellowship event? How can these events be paid events in the grand scheme of things? Either it is a calling and a service or it is an employee/employer. As you point out it is not an employee/employer but a service, and you note that there are some weeks that are 80 hours and very difficult and some that are not. So my question is, how does one denote the hours to be worked for a half-time priest? Shouldn't they be as flexible, inclusive and service-filled as a full-time priest?

Peggy Blanchard + said...

I am a full-time priest who is paid to work part-time. I say that, because we have the same challenges as full-time priests--if a parishioner of mine is dying, and it's not supposed to be a day I work,I'm still going to be with that dying person regardless. I'll do my best to work out re-arranging my schedule so I'm only part-time for that week, or spread it over to the next, but this kind of re-arranging is done by both full-time and part-time priests. It happens often enough that there is no point in expecting a rigid schedule to obtain, because it doesn't come with the job.

mylifemyfaith said...

I'm not clergy anymore, and it's still very hard for me not to try to do tons of things at my church in addition to a 48 hour per week secular job that is very physical and tiring. I recently volunteered to serve at the altar EVERY Sunday. Not a good idea.

Whit Johnstone

Vickie Christensen said...

Thanks for your insight and clarification.

Northstar said...

I miss Vicar of Dibley

Moorecat said...

I'm a parish secretary who worships where I work. It's a joy for me as well, but #9 proved difficult. I ended up introducing a message book which sits at the back of the church, where we have coffee after the service. If someone tries to tell me that something needs doing, I ask them to write it in the book. Then on Tuesday I come in and collect the book and work through it. So far it's working well, so that even the Vicar makes us of it

Curate's Egg said...

Thank you - there's a lot here that I wish people in our congregation had been told, or thought about, or that I wish I had told them and encouraged them to think about!

One thing seems specific to a particular type of ministry which is very different from mine, though. I'd love to have the opportunity to miss the parishoners I bury, but it's very rare for me even to have met them. I share the grief of the family; at every funeral I mourn too; but miss them? I'd jump at the chance.

Vickie Christensen said...

Thanks Peggy, How does the vestry determine how many hours apply to a part-time priest. Is it like any other 40 hour a week job? Do benefits usually stay with part-time positions, or is that just a negotiated point?

conniesalexander said...

I don't remember a bra slipping but rather pantyhose that wouldn't stay up! Hard to preach and look relaxed under those circumstances. I love being in ministry, but it is by far the hardest job I've ever done.
Rev. Dr. Connie S. Alexander, retired Presbyterian minister

Crimson Rambler said...

OHHHHH yes on the slipping pantyhose!

Mike E. said...

I'm blessed with a congregation that knows I'm human.

Vickie Christensen said...

So I have a conflict. I regard Sunday as the Sabbath. One cannot 'work' on the Sabbath as per the Bible. So preaching should be rejoicing and talking about the splendor of God's will and has nothing to do with a days work. Let the volunteers worry about the A/C and the heating.

clairealcock said...

Excellent!!

:mic said...

Eloquent and powerful. This is a great encouragement to those of us that feel the juggling of ministry life which is found underneath so many of your comments. Thank you for this.

8b9f454e-a5e5-11e1-bc57-000bcdca4d7a said...

Ha,ha! I haven't had the slipping bra, or the slipping pantyhose, but once the cincture slipped down (unknown to me) during the Eucharistic Prayer. When, during the fraction anthem, I turned to go to the tabernacle, the rope around my ankles sent me sprawling across the sanctuary floor. I was careful to explain during announcements (right before dismissal), lest my painful prostration should be expected at every mass, or, worse, others be moved to imitate it as a restoration of some lost Anglo-catholic practice.

8b9f454e-a5e5-11e1-bc57-000bcdca4d7a said...

Sunday may be a "sabbath" for some, but it certainly is NOT "the Sabbath". Even trying to say so in most languages would come out as "Sunday is Saturday". I grew up with sabbatarian Sundays, and there was hardly rejoicing; in fact, it was torture for us children! Applying to Sunday the real or imagined sabbatarian strictures "as per the Bible" is surely not a step forward.

presbytera said...

Hmpf! Ask the clergy spouse if any other job is REALLY comparable to the one in the collar.

~S~

presbytera said...

I would further rephrase it that SOME weeks the priest gets most of one day off, which is why s/he gets such long vacations-- the first third of the vacay is unhooking from the church and getting far enough away to sleep deeply. The last third is about going back to do XYZ which the now-well-rested priest thinks is a good idea. The middle third-- the actual vacation-- I call "marriage." :~)

Steffen Riesenberg said...

True for swedish priests, too.

Flounder said...

Thank you. Both this post and Elizabeth Keaton's reference are excellent reminders for we laypeople.

CS said...

In case anyone finds it helpful, here's what I did to put an end to the slipping bra strap: I sewed a small piece of ribbon on the seam above each shoulder in my cassock, attaching each one directly to the cassock at one end, and sewing a snap at the other. When I put on my cassock, I slip the ribbons underneath my bra straps and snap them in place. No slipping. (It used to drive me nuts before.)

Sal said...

As a parish administrator who, too, worships where I work, I also have experienced many times the issue posed in #9. (And frankly, several of the other numbers as well.) Message book at back of the church is a great idea!

The Copes said...

On my first week back from maternity leave I heard a newborn cry in the back of the church during my sermon and began lactating. Thank God for the stole!

V of E said...

Me too, thanks be to God!

Christine Robinson said...

Another hard one: Your clergy's social life is often also their work life. Wedding receptions, birthday parties, community events, conferences that include lay people, and anything in the congregation's building even if it has been rented out for a concert is some part work.

Judy said...

Scott, I think it's about how people idealize the clergy and have unrealistic expectations of us. Something about being closer to God, maybe? So I agree with Beth -- it's not about how hard we work, it's about NOT living up to expectations.

Judy said...

Indeed, Christine! So if we sometimes choose NOT to show up for some church event which is social to everyone else but work to us, please forgive us. It's not that we don't love our congregation; it's just that we might occasionally like to go to a movie or stay home and play with our kids, who never get enough of our attention.

$6suit said...

I love the idea of a message book! As a part-time administrator, it is sometimes impossible to participate in the worship service or Sunday school because if I am there, it is assumed I am "available."

Unknown said...

God bless us all. The mediaeval nun who wrote; "Temper with tranquility our manifold activity, that we my do our work for thee with very great simplicity," spoke for us all. The crucial missing idea in my experience is that The People 9or whatever we may call them) have no idea of their being in a relationship of covenant with the clergy. All clergy are in the business of disappointing the unrealistic expectations of others.
Revd Dr John Maxwell Kerr, SOSc,
Episcopal Chaplain to the Faculty, Staff and Students,
The College of William and Mary

Cathy 'n Bosley said...

Amen, Sisters. Amen.
Rev. Catherine O'Connor, Orillia, ON, Canada.

Diane said...

Me, too, (mostly)

Mary Ellen from Napa said...

As a church administrator, I've also made it a practice to ask congregants to call or email me on Monday. And they have been quite put out, assuming that if I am there, I'm working. They would not let me worship on Sundays, which is why church staff are smart to worship elsewhere.

We also like to protect our ministers and give them the opportunity to rest when they can.

Eric Atcheson said...

As isolated as we pastors often are from one another due to the nature of our work and how most parishes only have 1-2 of us at a time, it is always good to hear the stories of someone else and know that you're not alone out there...

Rev. Eric Atcheson

babsuzette said...

I do think that in many cases we do work 'harder'. We may not work any more hours than those who are committed to secular jobs, but with rare exceptions, I think the emotional toll of our jobs, and the expectations we face are far more intense than most other positions. We are expected to combine many professions- from counselor to public speaker to office director to building manager to receptionist along with chaplain, funeral director, wedding planner and liturgist. I love my 'job' but I agree with the advise my Supervising Pastor gave me when I was considering my calling over 35 years ago..."Do not become a Pastor/Priest/Professional Minister unless nothing else will satisfy the voice of God in your life.

Maggie Sebastian said...

My husband sent this to me while I was at work (chaplain in a small hospital in Oregon). I wanted to jump up and down and yell, "yes, yes, yes." I think this list should be incorporated somehow into all our covenants/contracts with congregations.

Shifting gears from the dying/dead to meetings to sit-downs with someone with a list of complaints to home where the family actually thinks they deserve your attention . . . . definitely my "growing edge" as a parish minister. Thank you.

TinaMarie said...

I don't know that it's an issue of working harder. But my husband of 24 years, who remembers me when I was a computer programmer on call 24/7 for the system I supported, will tell you the truth. No one works like clergy does except doctors. We are clergy 24/7, we respond to the needs of everyone who is "ours" (parishioners) and anyone in desperate need who is not ours (random folks on the street, in the stores, etc.) Much like doctors, our job becomes our identity for many people. When my husband tells people he is an engineer, most folks do not launch into how they just can't go Boeing/General Dynamics/Lockheed-Martin anymore, although they still believe in engineering and things like that. It's just their parents made them go to ... blah blah blah. No one accosts him on planes and asks him to solve their engineering problems. No one expects him to come in the middle of the night when things go bad in the assembly area. Basically, he works hard and he works lots of hours...he even prays about his job...but it just isn't the same and he would tell you that, and tell you rather vehemently. He told me once that watching me go through seminary made him respect pastors a lot more, and watching me work at the church made him hate organized relgion for what they expect of us. Hmmmm...

PKsquared said...

Both of my parents are clergy and it is absolutely, positively impossible to say to every parishioner who needs something from you "talk to one of the volunteers. It's Sunday and I can't work today." Every part of the worship day (NO matter which day of the week it is) is an act of service. From the praise of the sermon (which is not what every clergy does on Sunday) to printing more bulletins or fixing the AC or finding the lost candlestick, clergy are working. It is all a part of their job (work) and their calling. Also, I agree with the above comment. The Sabbath is a day of rest. For most clergy that is a day other than Sunday.

James J. Olson said...

Absolutely. There is no such thing as part time ministry. Churches/denominations should recognize this. Its not a job, its a vocation, and this distinction is lost on most people.

sermonsinstones.com said...

Clergy should print out #1 in big bold type and put it wherever they will see it. I know I am not only speaking for myself when I say our sense of responsibility for our congregations takes over our other responsibilities, such as the ones we have toward friends, family, and ourselves. This is not a good model for the people we are leading.

And for the same reason, I was shocked when I entered the ministry and found that the norm was a six-day week. Older colleagues kept talking about their "day off," and I said "Day? Whatever happened to dayS?" and would often get a pitying look. I said, "The heck with that. I'm doing more intense work than ever before, I need two days off per week."

It's taken me years and a lot of spousal pressure, but I finally honor Saturdays. They are, after all, the only day that everyone in the family has off. I work three Saturdays a year: our auction, our board retreat, and our national conference. Otherwise, if you want me there, it's got to be another day. I can't tell you how good that inviolable "family day" has been for my marriage, my relationship with my daughter, my sanity, my happiness, and my ability to serve my congregation with all my heart.

Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern

Daphne said...

Thank you for sharing this. I am a commissioned minister...a minister commissioned to a ministry at my home church of caregiver spiritual support. I am a receptionist/admin assist. at a lawfirm which handles elder law issues, so I am "on" and speaking with caregivers all day every day. Between the two vehicles of ministry, I have found myself very tired and am considering leaving my church. After reading this, I feel empowered to try taking a sabbatical instead, which has been suggested to me. It's amazing what the Spirit will speak through. Thank you for being a conduit of God's grace into a difficult situation in my life. Blessings and peace to you.

Kimberly said...

the etch-a-sketch image is fabulous. thanks.

Mark Fischer said...

"Just like regular people, life can be joyous and overwhelming. And we often are not able to share that with parishioners" Your observations are spot on! But I would like to add a comment to the quote from #1 I listed above.
I really believe that we do need to share life with our parishioners--not everything to be sure. However, in the situation in which the church finds itself today, leading from "amidst" just seems to me where we need to be. That means sharing life, struggles,questions with parishioners. With discretion, to be sure. When we live among, lead from among, share life and love and joy and sorrow in daily life with parishioners, I think it holds untold blessings for the whole community of faith.

salvagedfaith said...

ahh... thank you for this list =) The one about feast or famine is sooo true and I'm grateful for the slow weeks.

Jo said...

Indeed - I miss the Vicar as well. I had been served in a couple of pastorates before I first saw the show but when I finally saw it - (a video w/a women's clergy group) I ROLLED AROUND ON THE FLOOR - LMAO.....it was so on-target.

Jo said...

oops - It's Saturday night & I should be writing a sermon...hurrying while writing = typo...should say I had been serving.

Jo said...

Well, glad my comments were accepted, proof I am not a robot...although no longer serving a congregation - I get to pulpit supply periodically. This list should be mandatory reading for congregations before the pastors get there. (Sort of tongue in cheek suggestion.) Thanks.

Scoop said...

Every single one of these is spot on, and also, slishtlybadapted, apply to teachers. MaynGod bless you and keep you and your parishioners, too.

Mary O'Shaughnessy said...

I quoted your "Beyonce at a concert on" to Bishop Gene Robinson on Thursday, and he had some really good things to say, launching from it. (That part starts at 9:21 on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_5O18mdPeo)

TabbyCat said...

O clergymen:

1. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Stop trying to do all the things. You have people in the parish that can do that for you. Trust me, you do. They may not be clergy, but they have talents. Make them use them. You are their shepherd, not their force-feeder. God gave us free will for a reason! (And I am quite certain that there's an app for that, too.)


2. Reasonable selfishness is key. If that means you have a hard and fast rule of two days off? Do it and stick to it. Do not break that rule unless someone is in imminent danger of death or loss of limb. They need to talk to someone about something not life threatening on the days off? Have a list of people who are willing to be an ear. I bet they're in your parish. No really, go find them.

3. Have a person you can talk to about your stresses and frustrations. You know, a person you don't have to be strong for, a person you can fold up and ugly cry on, and see them on a regular basis. This is inviolable.

I am a very strong, self-contained person - but these three rules I live by as a vet assistant/dogwalker. And you would be surprise how much better I am at my job for having learned to be like, "No. I'm not going to do such-and-such." Even if I can, there are just times when I turn something down because it's better that I do to avoid resentment.