Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Clergy Appreciation Month and Reluctant Communicant

 

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons Clip Art
Image Courtesy of Creative Commons Clip Art

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: As a pastor, I have come to dread “Pastor Appreciation Month,” because it quickly becomes “Pastor EVALUATION Month,” where people express their resentments. I’ve spent three decades doing this work that has swallowed me whole and left me and my family exhausted and lonely.  I wish we had a month designated as, “Treat the Pastor Like a Human Being” month.

What are your thoughts about the Pastor Appreciation season? ~Exhausted

Dear Exhausted,

When I was in the active pastorate, I thought about starting a website called “Pastor Resignation Letters,” Many, if not most, pastors write one at least mentally just about every Monday morning. And it’s not because we don’t love the work. Most do and enjoy many rewards from it, but few are tangible.

The majority of clergy work extraordinarily long hours, pastor small and struggling churches, make little money, and often have hefty student loans to repay.  Family-centered times, particularly Easter and Christmas, are the heaviest work weeks of the year for clergy. Clergy never get the often refreshing three-day weekends that come with many national holidays.

The loneliness is the hardest.  Clergy are often not given space or time for vulnerable and open friendships to form.  Couple that with the frustrations of never being finished with their work. More, they often hear constant drips of criticism because of an inability to live up to congregational expectations.

I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek description of the ideal pastor:

We would like a young male pastor, no more than 35, with a wife who will work full-time for the church as musician, children’s pastor and office help while bearing and raising smart, beautiful and perfect children.

  • This young pastor should be a mature man with extensive experience as preacher, writer, teacher, conflict manager, vision-caster, fund-raiser and administrator.
  • At least 40 hours of his workweek will be spent making contacts in the community as Apostle and Evangelist.
  • He will serve actively in multiple service organizations, holding leadership offices when possible.
  • His sermons will be so carefully crafted that publishers will be hounding him to to them into best-selling books. The podcasts will be downloaded worldwide.
  • He will call on all the shut-ins and nursing home residents daily and keep extensive open office hours to counsel the troubled.
  • He spends extensive quality time with his wife and children, and works out regularly to keep his body buffed and toned.

Since there is more than a little truth in that description, somebody, somewhere decided that October is “Pastor Appreciation Month.”  I personally disliked the idea of having a month or even a day for such an event. I was not in it in order to be appreciated and I think few clergy are.

On the other hand, your suggestion, “Treat the Pastor Like a Human Being” month sounds utterly delightful! Clergy are humans. We are as subject to life challenges, to depressions, to illnesses, to sin and brokenness as any other human being.

We entered this life because we sensed a call to sacrificial service. We all want to be treated with kindness and generosity in spirit all the time. It’s a great idea.

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tree damage from stormDear Thoughtful Pastor: What do you do when it comes time for Communion, everybody stands, ready to proceed, and you feel like you’ve crawled out on a rotten limb of late and are certainly not worthy to go?  What do you say to yourself to decide? ~Unworthy to Receive

Dear Unworthy,

Most of the things we do in life that are genuinely good for us, such as regular exercise, disciplined eating, getting adequate rest and careful budgeting all have built-in resistance factors.

To practice the habits that bring health, we must prepare. Set out exercise clothes. Plan meals. Cook at home with fresh ingredients. Maintain regular bedtimes and good sleep hygiene. Make honest examinations of our spending/saving habits.

We create marvelous excuses to avoid or delay all such activities.

The reception of the Sacrament of Holy Communion can also be seen as one of those things that is good for us. But we may put it off endlessly because of inadequate preparation which leads to growing resistance.

Different churches handle Communion differently. However, all require some sort of response on the part of the participant.

The issue here is soul preparedness as you choose your response. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, a notoriously unruly and divisive group of people:

communion-waferWhoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”

The larger context indicates “unworthiness” revolves around the way we treat others, especially those in our closest community. Do we grab what we want without regard to the needs of others? Do we play “us against them” games where some are excluded? Have we been disrespectful to God and others during worship?

All these questions are the reasons that many faith traditions require a time of confession and reconciliation before the reception of the communion elements.

Those traditions that don’t require a confession may instead require adherence to a certain set of beliefs and/or the taking of membership vows, thus restricting participants only to those who have adequate understanding.

The question then becomes the state of your own soul in line with the requirements of your particular faith tradition.

Remember, you are never worthy on your own. The fact that you are even asking that question indicates, however, that you are willing to take the important steps to proper self-evaluation before participating.

In other words, make adequate preparation for this time. Then freely participate despite the inevitable excuses. It’s just like exercise. Your body rejoices with good movement. Your soul rejoices with good exercise of spiritual disciplines. Communion is a major one.

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All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to thoughtfulpastor@gmail.com, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.

[Note: a version of this column is slated to appear in the Friday, October 16, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]

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