to thank Bishop Lipscomb and the Rev. Victoria Kempf for opportunities
such as this one to focus as leaders of the church on building patterns
of health for our bodies, minds, spirits, and relationships and being willing
to revise those patterns as situations call for new responses.
This morning the primary lens for viewing questions of personal change and growth as clergy was through the discipline of psychology. This afternoon the invitation is to look at issues that face us through the lens of our spiritual tradition as Christians and particularly as Anglicans.
Stories as Holy Ground
Typical of spiritual directors and trainers of spiritual directors, I have a deep appreciation for the ground of experience as the starting-point for doing primary theology. Listening to peoples’ stories becomes for me the holy ground for reflection on how God encounters us, loves us, and challenges us, as our baptismal liturgy puts it, “to grow into the full stature of Christ” Book of Common Prayer, p. 302). In preparation for this time with you I have drawn from the stories and comments of a number of people, and have been in touch with my own story.
Nearly twenty years ago, as the custodial parent of a seven-year-old daughter following divorce, I entered seminary in preparation for priesthood. It was indeed formative–and began raising important questions of how I was going to be shaped as a priest, and what in my vocation to Christian leadership in the church I was going to model for others. How was I to respect my need for both a personal and community prayer life, amidst the academic demands of seminary life, and the need to engage in a work-study program, and be an attentive single parent to a young child, and have some time for cultivating friendships, as well as honor my need for quiet time for myself? I wanted it all–and I wanted to do it all perfectly.
It is probably no surprise to you that it didn’t take too long into my first year at seminary before I got so sick with a “fever of undetermined origin” that I had to be hospitalized for several days and a seminary friend of mine had to stay with my daughter. I had hit up hard against my limits. I couldn’t do it all, at least not with the level of expectation I had place on myself. I had to take a hard look at what I needed to do about all those good things that claimed my attention. And I began to realize that I needed help in assessing those demands and my limitations.
I found help in that first year in three ways. One resource was my academic advisor. He was someone who knew the seminary’s system and could help me sort out some of the issues related to life there–especially the academic demands. This was a person within the seminary system that I could talk to about the practical expectations of life there.
Another resource that I sought out was spiritual direction. The broader availability of individual spiritual direction was very new in the early 1980's, and very few people had been specifically trained in that art. However, writers in the Episcopal-Anglican tradition–Morton Kelsey, Tilden Edwards, Alan Jones, and Kenneth Leech–were informing the church about the re-appropriation of this ancient practice.
I was interested in exploring a spiritual direction relationship as a way of reflecting in an ongoing manner on my developing relationship with God and how that impacted on my relationships with others in life. I also sought to understand what might be appropriate spiritual practices for my continuing growth in my love for God and God’s love for me and hoped that a spiritual director might help me discover those practices. And I wanted a confidential and sacred environment where a guide would listen with me as I reflected on my deepest yearnings and concerns.
A third resource that developed in my entering year was participation in a peer support group. Several of us had found that a small group process for support and growth had been important to our life in the past. So about ten of us negotiated with the seminary to provide a peer group facilitator, and we set up a regular meeting time for exploring situations emerging in our lives related to personal, professional, and spiritual growth.
The tug of various dimensions of life on me did not change when I graduated from seminary, and the challenge to model something other than the general cultural drivenness–the challenge to live in a way that respects the loves entrusted to me by God–continues to be a major life theme for me and I think that it is a basic spiritual challenge to many clergy. Receiving personal spiritual companionship and participating in a colleague group have been major structures for regular reflection and support over the years.
The Three Loves
So I propose that we frame our inquiry around spiritual wholeness, especially in times of change and transition. Many of you just did your exegetical work around the “summary of the law” passage from Matthew for this past Sunday’s sermon. You know that it is a conflation of a portion of the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.5 and one of the “holiness codes” of Lev. 19.18b.
There are three loves referred to in this and the parallel texts in the other synoptic gospels: we are to love God with the totality of ourselves, we are to love our neighbor, and we are to love ourselves. I interpret this passage to mean, among other things, that respect for each of these three loves in their dynamic interrelationship is the basis for true life. Love of God with the whole of our self is foundational for spiritual vitality but such love also entails love for others and ourselves. This sense of the dynamic interrelationship of the loves as an understanding of what life in its fullness is about is mirrored in other ways in scripture.
Shalom and Eirene
For example, the Hebrew understanding of shalom is a very richly textured expression of peace. Shalom means completeness, peace, totality, well-being, harmony in community, free growth of the soul. It is extended by covenant, and its source is the God who overcomes the forces of disharmony and evil. It’s adjectival form, shalem, is translated as “whole.” Shalom is used in Hebrew scriptures too numerous to detail here, and is particularly abundant in the psalms and in the various Isaiah passages.
The Christian scriptures follow this richly textured understanding of peace, appearing in the Greek as eirene. Eirene as peace, unity, and concord and evoking the richness of the Jewish understanding of shalom appears in all the gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Pauline epistles. Ultimately for Christians, Jesus Christ is the supreme embodiment of the gift of shalom by God to the world through the totality of his life, ministry, passion and crucifixion, and resurrection. He is the one who shows the marks of his crucifixion, the signs of his unconquerable love, and proclaims peace. He is the one, in John’s gospel, who calls his followers to love one another as he has loved us.
Respecting the Loves
So our consideration of the movement into deepening spiritual health and well-being (shalom) can be theologically grounded on a respect for the loves that are ours to integrate in the concrete situations of our lives. To “respect the loves” means living in the creative tension of a receptivity and response to God’s ongoing call in all dimensions of our lives while honoring the community of relationships that God has entrusted to us, and while attending to our personal needs and seeing that they are addressed in healthy ways. We are made of whole fabric–that is part of the shalom or eirene or peace that is the gift of God–and so we are not wise to put the loves in opposition to each other. Yet, it can be helpful to reflect on how we find we are balancing the loves.
I told you of an incident early in my seminary life that was the result of the stress of trying to manage those loves without accessing spiritual resources that would help focus me on God’s call to wholeness. In this new stage in my life I tried to meet everyone else’s agendas but neglected to respect my own needs. I got sick with a medically unknown illness–a sickness of the soul.
The beginning of my soul-healing had to do with getting in conscious touch with my own vulnerable state in a time of major life transition. It required a lot of “letting go” of things that had been important, including my sense of competency and social power. I found myself in what anthropologist Victor Turner, and theologian Terry Holmes, called a “liminal state.” The root for liminal means “threshold” or “boundary limit” and it might be visualized as the threshold of a doorway when one enters into some new place.
The structures that supported my sense of identity and worth had been undone and my life felt ambiguous, unsure, powerless. My ability to pray as I had in the past had been disrupted. The scriptural image that comes to my mind about that time is of “wandering in the wilderness.” It was an in-between time of the painful dying of an old self identity, but without the comfort of any clarity about the new self. I began again the difficult, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful journey into shalom that is my–our– spiritual birthright, process, and destination with the help of individual and communal guides and companions.
These liminal times in our lives, times of major passage, are both distressing and potent occasions of grace. One young priest had been an associate rector for about five years when a restlessness started emerging within him. In paying attention to the restlessness, two images surfaced for him. One was coming up against a wall that was now too limited a boundary in his current parish ministry. He had an urge to get on the other side of the wall, even though it was safest being inside the confines of the wall. The other was seeing himself as a baby eagle craning his neck to peek outside a high nest. There was a big world out there, but it was also very safe being in the nest. He was beginning to feel the urge to try his wings, but he might fall if he wasn’t ready. As we sat with the inner wisdom of those images he slowly moved to a recognition of his readiness to go through the hard work of actively seeking a call to a new parish.
A priest who had moved following her final parish position spent her first year of retirement in the discomfort of a liminal state. Was she going to be financially stable enough in retirement? What was her ministry going to look like now that she was not a full-time parish priest? How was she to invest her time? What gifts did she have to give now that she was retired? The image that first emerged for her as we sat together with her questions was one of a field that seemed barren. Gradually she became aware that the field was fallow ground, it was the good earth, and that nestled in the fallow ground underneath the surface were seeds. She came to a recognition that she was being called into an extended Advent season, a season of trusting in the emergence of a future that couldn’t been seen with clarity–the seeds were growing beneath the surface, deep in her soul, and would emerge as new plants in the fulness of time. She was able to live faithfully through a major life transition.
Regula and Covenant
A superior of an Episcopal religious community that I talked with was concerned that clergy are able to develop a meaningful personal spiritual rule of life that honors the real context of their life. My sense is that such a practice as developing a spiritual rule should encompass reflection on how God is calling the person to faithfulness in respecting the loves–and that means going beyond just the structuring of personal patterns of prayer and study of scripture to looking at what are the various foundational ways the particular person is kept “spiritually sane and whole.” When I work with clergy on developing a personal regula I ask them to reflect on what they have discovered is important to do on a regular basis to keep themselves as healthy as possible in body, mind, spirit, and in their relationships. In my own family network of living with my spouse and 14-year-old son, we developed a “family covenant” that articulates our commitment to honoring our needs for physical care and safety, intellectual growth, emotional health, and spiritual well-being–and states our agreement on certain practices and ways of being together, including our decision-making processes, that sustains those areas of care.
So, for example, one of the ways that my wife and I can respect our love amidst the many pulls of other good things and vocational responsibilities is to commit to a morning off together once a week as time for us, and a Monday-Saturday routine of simple prayer together in the morning. Those simple commitments are concrete ways we respect our love and ground our lives in regular times for intimacy. So, too, we negotiate a “family night” weekly where we commit to playing together as son and parents. These structures help provide a framework for building stability and honoring our love for each other. In fact, these are contemporary applications of the ancient Christian and Jewish spiritual practices of living under a spiritual rule of life and being a people in covenant with each other and God.
A pastor and spiritual director whose direction work is exclusively with clergy wrote about exploring three basic polarities inherent in the spiritual challenge of clergy life. He wrote,
“Framed as polarities, these three realities require an ever deepening appreciation for the paradoxical character of life [and] ministry.
Indwelling/Outgoing–the tension between the maintenance of an inner life in the midst of highly extroverted demands.
Fear/Trust–the tension between the two fundamental human emotions from which all perception, judgement and behavior emerge.
Law/Grace–the tension between our need for structure and the fluid experience of the Spirit.
The following questions are formative in an exploration of these polarities:
In what or whom do I place trust?
In what or whom do I make covenant?
To what or whom do I surrender?”
Other tensions inherent in the life of many clergy were named by other priests who wrote to me. I would like you to hear their voices as well.
A diocesan officer wrote:
“I can think of two personal issues. One has to do with the tension between helping to create trust relationships and a community of trust when one must practice defensive ministry. The ‘boundary maintenance’ guidelines of diocesan sexual misconduct policies require caution and a kind of defensiveness. And they presuppose structures of mistrust. And the Clergy Killer phenomenon which has been described by Lloyd Rediger, means that one has to watch one's back. I think the challenge is to find some way to live with these tensions while finding some kind of detachment.
A second issue has to do with the dynamics of pastoral-sized congregations. Their size is determined by how many folk the pastor can stay connected with personally. So to grow one has to stay connected with more, and for many congregations that only works when the pastor over-functions. Working a mere 50 hour week comes to be resented. It represents inaccessibility or indifference. To find the spiritual detachment to let go of those expectations from the pastor's side and the skills to help other structural dynamics develop is the challenge. Not being able to do that is to sacrifice personal health.”
A priest who is a pastoral psychotherapist wrote:
“I see too many (parish) clergy forced to play manager/CEO. By that I mean,
over the years it is harder to be a mission. . . . Our parishes must be self-supporting and thereby larger. So making sure that the bottom-line is black becomes a major goal, said or unsaid. That leads to a economically driven, manage by objectives, ministry. Clergy are then forced to play to the broadest denominator, being bland is therefore a virtue, and they cease to lead. In the worst of cases, fail to lead.”
A rector in a very wealthy parish setting was candid about the tension he feels between the cultural values that are a dominant force in the life of his people and his own sense of spiritual authenticity to the gospel of Christ. He wrote:
“In order to be true to your question, it is necessary to focus on ‘THE’ major personal spiritual issue, so I am going to risk and say that it is, for me, the realization that I take the Gospel too seriously for my people. While I like to think of myself as one who embraces the Incarnation, and understands the Gospel imperative to be something which occurs in the midst of life, not apart from it, I also know that we cannot substitute another ‘gospel’ for the Good News we have in Jesus Christ. . . .But inside I churn with spiritual anxiety as I see myself drawn to put aside Christian principles in order to accommodate another form of principle.
The crisis of this is that I believe the people among whom I minister actually expect me to do that. They are embarrassed by being reminded of what I believe to be a moral, ethical, or ‘Christian’ principle which might cause us to do things in another way. They are not bad people, and they don't want me to be ‘bad’ either. They just don't want me to mess around with the actions, words, or activities which might assist them in getting ahead (whatever that means for each of them.) As I approach the last few years of my professional ordained ministry, I am more and more conflicted over this tension. I don't want to retire (in a few years) having "sold out" on principles which I believe to be central to the Christian faith, such as honesty, openness to diversity of thought and practice, and justice for all the people of God.. I want the sacraments to reflect an opportunity for unity with our creator God, not just a pretty, well-performed piece of drama.
To turn this issue into a time of growth would take more than my own concern for this issue. I would love ‘the Church’ (by which I mean the Episcopal Church, my Bishop, my Diocese, my colleagues in ministry) to give credibility to this issue, without it being another chance to ‘beat up’ the people in the pew. I would love for my Bishop to say to me, ‘Go for it. If there is resistence, I will be there for you.’ My experience tells me that our Bishops (at least the ones I know) are far more willing to go to the mat over social issues than this one. As I said earlier, there would have been many times when I thought that was the right way. I don't now.”
Intimacy with God
One of the challenges that was named earlier is to honor the tension between an inner life (love of self and intimacy with God) and highly extroverted demands (love of neighbor writ large). Donald Hands and Wayne Fehr, both Episcopal priests, in Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy (1993) point out the spiritual danger for clergy of lack of intimacy with God. They write,
“Ordained ministers can live for years on the level of the ‘objective,’ church-mediated faith (what ‘we’ believe), without reflecting much on their personal history with God, without any heartfelt personal love-involvement with God. . . . Also typical for this pattern of life and ministry is a notable split between head and heart. A person in this condition may be well educated in theology and quite eloquent in teaching correct doctrine. His or her preaching and counseling, however, is likely to be without much power to touch the hearts of others. What is missing in such a life is a deeply lived love relationship to the One about whom this person speaks. ” (Hands & Fehr, 54-55)
As clergy we get lots of strokes for being public pray-ers. We don’t get the same level of external reward for nurturing the private dimension of our spiritual life. Managing our time in a way that assures regular personal nurture of our relationship with the Holy One, the very source of our life and ministry, often means taking ongoing initiatives in negotiating agreements with the community of faith that we work for and also with our intimate circle of relationships so we can get the practices and resources that we need: such as regular daily time for private prayer and meditation, monthly meetings with a spiritual companion or group, and periodic personal retreats and sabbath days. Having a spiritual companion relationship that focuses on valuing the quality of your personal spiritual life will obviously give you more support as you negotiate time off from others in support of your intimacy with God. Also, If you are hitting a spiritual impasse in your life, or a liminal time, you will want to know how that can affect the way you pray and a good guide can help you discover what prayer is now yours.
Who Pastors the Pastor?
Another important spiritual issue for clergy, which rises to the forefront in times of major life transition or situational crisis, is the question of who is your pastor? (An allied question is who is the pastor for your immediate family and loved ones?) Often clergy get isolated off from appropriate and effective pastoral care unless they have a spiritual director or some other person that they have no other responsibility to other than receiving spiritual and pastoral care and guidance. Typically bishops and others in the church hierarchy, although they may wish to provide a pastoral presence, can not be primary pastoral care-givers to clergy because of the tensions inherent in dual relationships. Sometimes clergy in multiple staff relationships hope to receive primary pastoral care and spiritual guidance from the rector. Again, this is tricky due to the multiple roles and supervisory responsibility that is inherent in the relationship. Another source of ongoing pastoral care might be a peer clergy support group–if the clergy in the group can establish enough trust for each other to “take off their collars” and the group is willing to challenge a member’s destructive behavior when that is needed.
In a clergy group I was in for eleven years I saw two men approach retirement. One used the group effectively in processing his experiences of letting go of his authority as rector, celebrating the development of his parish over the years, and redirecting his energy into future vocational interests in retirement. Another rector for at least five or six years prior to his retirement showed a strong resistance to change, challenges, and the opportunity for growth. He would use the group to complain about how dead the parish was, but was unable to accept any responsibility for its deadness. He would consider that maybe he had been mismatched with that parish, but would not do anything about getting out prior to retirement. He was in the parish sixteen years and both he and the parish were decimated by the time he retired. As I look back on our group interactions I wonder how firm we were in challenging him. There was a tension within the group as to how much we were to offer comfort and to what degree are we willing to accept confrontation. We also had several facilitators over the time that I was a member of the group that reflected some of our ambivalence. I name this with you to give you a “heads up” on a dynamic within a system aiming to give effective pastoral care to clergy.
I received some correspondence from lay members of churches wanting to explore the question of what is an appropriate level of self-disclosure of spiritual struggles by clergy to their parishioners. This also surfaced as an issue in a conversation I had with a priest. The concern is whether the clergy person is seeking primary pastoral care from the congregation, which is reversing a role expectation, or whether the priest or deacon is using the story of their spiritual struggle or crisis as an example of trying to live a faithful Christian life and seeking resources for growth in the midst of a difficult time, which supports members of the congregation in their own times of pain. Lay people wrote that they would welcome the kind of self-disclosure that would help members of the parish face their own spiritual problems, but they are not inviting becoming the primary pastors for their pastors.
“Managing the Reverence”
Warner White, a retired priest who has done consulting work with congregations, has given focus to what he has called “managing the reverence.” As clergy we are all symbol-people of the sacred and are often the unconscious focus of the longings and fears that the people we serve have for God. We are addressed as “the reverend.” Sometimes we are called “Father” or “Mother.” Particularly priests and bishops are given the responsibility and power of presiding over the sacred rituals of the community–rituals that determine what is made holy and what is forgiven. We are entrusted with the authority to speak on behalf of the Church and to give voice and direction to the deep spiritual longings of the community. White suggests that in a healthy relationship with a faith community the bonding process goes through three stages–adoration, disappointment, and respect (Action Information, Vol. XII, No. I). The time of adoration is a time when the clergy person is viewed in divine terms–larger than life. White writes, “I heard a priest once describe how he was greeted in his new parish as ‘the messiah,’ ‘the one who was going to set all things right.’ ‘And the trouble was,’ the priest added, ‘I believed it! I thought I really was going to do all those things.’ [The priest] went on to describe his own disillusionment with himself, as well as the disillusionment of his parish when they discovered the he couldn’t do everything they had hoped for.” In this time of disappointment, White continues, “We and our parishioners become painfully aware of our mere humanity. We and they are faced with the necessity of accepting a merely human rector, instead of a messiah. If that task is successfully completed, and both priest and parish move on to the stage of respect, in which the priest respects himself or herself, and in which the parish respects the priest in that priest’s humanity, a healthy bond of regard is established. However . . . [we] still are walking symbols of God’s care and love for his people.”
I think that there are some vital practices that can be helpful in this issue of “managing the reverence.” Reflecting periodically with another person or group can help identify and understand the projections of the holy that are made onto us, and that we might make onto ourselves, and ground us in our humanity and real limitations and gifts. Such reflection can also help us appreciate that God’s grace is at work in our being symbol-people, recognized bearers of the sign of God’s presence and action in and through the Church, and particularly in the sacramental work and preaching that we are called to provide. Periodically exploring how we mirror back to others the gift of God’s grace that makes the whole people of God holy, the whole people of God the incarnation of the sacred presence–Christ’s body–rather than mistaking the projection of the holy onto us as something that is especially ours, or how we tend to keep that power to ourselves can be fruitful, although perhaps painful at times.
Other very practical considerations might include being attentive to regularizing parish feedback systems, establishing letters of agreement that outline parish leadership responsibilities with annual reviews and re-negotiations, and especially holding a mutual review of the pastoral-parish relationship and the stewardship of the parish’s ministries in light of its mission every few years with an outside consultant helping you and the parish through that process.
Communal Nature of Discernment
In the interaction between clergy and parish lay leadership another issue that is present to some extent in many churches is that of how we identify the particular gifts, ministries, mission, and vision that is emerging in that congregation. The developing sense of a baptismal ecclesiology that envisions all members of the church as called to be ministers of Christ through their baptism has moved many congregations and their lay and ordained leadership into a period of liminality. While the implications of this emerging way of seeing the church stimulates the minds and hearts of many, it is nevertheless set against an older and very well established form of understanding that “the ministers” are the ordained and they are the ones who do the sacred work and are solely responsible for the spiritual matters of the church. Consequently, there are tensions in many congregations around governance and spiritual authority. A gift in this is that some places are ready to do more focused reflection on what might constitute a spirituality of parish leadership that recognizes the authority of the ordained ministers while also welcoming a wider circle of lay members into the process of engaging in the ongoing discernment of the call of God in the mission, ongoing life, and ministries of the church.
Reverencing the Loves–Living into Shalom
I want to leave you with two final images that speak to me of the movement into God’s vision of relationships. One comes from the Eastern church’s language of the relationship between the divine persons of the Holy Trinity as pericoresis, which I understand to mean a dance-like movement. There is such loving regard and unity between the divine community of persons that it is like a never-ending joyous dance that spills out and invites in all of creation. Could it be that respecting–no let’s now use the stronger sacred word, reverencing–the loves that God gives us, of self, of others, and of God’s own self, is to join in and take our rightful place in the eternal dance of God?
The second image is of a hope for shalom that Isaiah 60 poetically paints of the ingathering of the dispersed people of Israel and the unity of the nations through the God who is at the center of the city of Zion. We know selections from it as Canticle 11, Surge Illuminare, The Third Song of Isaiah in the Book of Common Prayer. It begins, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” The vision is one of a well fortified city that is completely secure in the presence of the Holy One who lives in its center and so it can leave its gates always open to receive the gifts of the nations led by their kings. People can freely come and go in peace. It continues, “I will appoint Peace (Shalom) as your overseer and Righteousness as your taskmaster. Violence will no more be heard in your land, ruin or destruction within your borders. You will call your walls, Salvation, and all your portals, Praise.” May we continue discovering our holy dance partners, and live in well-boundaried security with God as our center and our true shalom.
Addenda: Additional Clergy Spiritual Issues
the issues mentioned in the presentation to the clergy of the Diocese of
Southwest Florida, I would like to make note of some other comments I have
Language for the Holy One
A Quaker of the un-programmed tradition wrote,
“I think what would be useful is to be flexible in the use of other words for
‘God’ and to encourage self-exploration of what these traditional terms mean today.” She was not arguing for discarding traditional religious language, but that the meaning of such terms needs to be placed in a current context along with other possibilities, which might also strengthen or reaffirm traditional metaphorical expressions.
Be a Scholar-Preacher
The Episcopal priest-pastoral psychotherapist quoted earlier in the presentation also had some challenging observations about preaching disciplines for clergy:
“[Too] few clergy continue to really study. By the time they get around to write sermons, they substitute a ‘psychologically oriented’ message for a
‘theologically oriented’ message. You see, psychology is nearer, it's everywhere. A theologically oriented message requires time in the study, exegesis, biblical study, etc. A ‘pop-psy’ sermon just takes one good idea and lots of personal examples. But the ‘gospel’ gets short-shrift. I can't tell you how many sermons I hear that I wish I never heard. I can do the ‘psy’ better. Give me the gospel, thoughtfully, not doctrine, but careful exposition of the text. . .Study and preaching. I think better time management and personal discipline would help. A clearer identity would be good too. Stop being the pop-psychologist, and be the scholar-preacher!”
He echoes the rector who was worried about preaching “another gospel” to his well-to-do congregation in that both the culture of privilege and the cultural milieu of pop-psychology are in tension with a sharp, challenging application of the Christian gospel.
Openness to Compassion and Authentic Inspiration
A Jewish woman had attended a seminary commencement service where Episcopal Bishop Chilton Knudsen was the speaker. She wrote,
“All I remember is that she talked about the simplicity of tissues and a cup of coffee being the best tools sometimes in offering support and comfort while listening. And I think she said something about she didn't always know what to say but that somehow from the deepest part of her the right words came about, G-d inspired words at the appropriate moment, sharing herself, being authentic in the moment as opposed to ‘knowing all the answers’.”
More on Self-Care
A married Roman Catholic woman who serves as a Pastoral Associate for a parish expressed further concern for clergy:
“Having worked pretty closely with a couple of clergy, I see a couple of issues. In my opinion, it is easier for them to take care of others than to take care of themselves. Obviously, I know emergencies occur, but, for the most part, I find they tend to not take appropriate care of themselves in areas of: nutrition, time for themselves, decent exercise, time for friends.
Another issue is for them to fit in prayer. It's tough. If I don't get up to pray at 5:30 AM, prayer is a moot point for me as well with family, kids, the parish, professional commitments. But, I have seen a couple of pastors give up their prayer time...weeks on end....to 'do' something they perceive as important. I have seen them blow off retreats years in a row since their calendars are too busy. Are they doing 'good things, necessary things,' YES!!! But....”
Tension of the Good Responsibilities
This tough issue of being stretched on multiple fronts by responsibilities to others is named by two other respondents. A clergy woman wrote:
“Right now the top of my list of ‘spiritual issues’ is keeping centered and focused on the mission of the church and my ministry in that mission. The things that pull me away are not BAD things -- they are needed and valuable alternatives -- but they do pull me away.
Some are part of the job of pastor: administrative tasks (I have felt like the building superintendent this week), "housekeeping" tasks, keeping the "social infrastructure" in-good-working-order tasks. YOU know that list.
Some are part of my personal life: the struggles and strains of family
relations, the social infrastructure of my own life, the physical infrastructure of my home, the need for play and restoration.
And some are part of community life.
Anyhow -- I think I have gained some experience and insight that help me turn away things that are not important, but choosing among those that are all important (sermon or pastoral visit??) is wearing.
I do feel I am doing better at this balancing act than I was a few years ago, and I'd be glad to share what the components of that improvement are. But it remains the central issue for me, spiritually. How to keep responding faithfully to my call to ministry in the face of more legitimate demands and needs that I can ever meet ....”
A man responded to the previous note:
“I too have felt all those "tugs" that [she] named. Issues centered around all those promises made in God's presence, relying upon the Grace of God to fulfill. Vows to Spouse, Children, Local Church, Denominations, and to God's self. It seems that our spiritual task is to handle all those vows in the context of our "Ultimate Vow" to what I think Tillich named our "Ultimate Concern" - God. That for me is THE spiritual issue. The way we respond changes as our relationship with God matures.
I recently read a survey on the amount of time Pastors spent each day in
prayer. Categories were; more than 1 hour, 1 hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, less than 15 minutes. I don't remember the actual breakdown but I do remember recoiling at the thought of judging our prayer life (and by extension) our spiritual life, by the amount of time spent on the activity. The jest of the article was that Pastor's should spend more time praying. But I have felt the uneasiness of handling prayer time as just another item to be checked off your daily to-do list.
The issue is much more complex than time. It has to do with being. And that is my struggle.”
In the presentation we looked at the issue of being symbol-people. A woman Episcopal priest gave this stark narrative of her own struggle:
“I think the major spiritual issue for clergy is 'playing God', or actually believing it. No one would, of course admit that but..... that is how it works out. In my own life that shows up in getting upset, angry, discouraged when things don't work the way I thought or planned. I could talk about the entire experience of the dissolution of the pastoral relationship [that she experienced many years ago] under that heading. It also involves accepting the culture's values of success and basing ones worth on them.
One bit of council given during the sacrament of reconciliation. . .early in my ordained ministry has continually called me back to reality. It was something like this, ‘[When] we are ordained priests, we often think of the great things we are going to accomplish for others and how they will be changed. Remember, always that this is your vocation, which means that you are going to be the one changed and drawn into deeper relationship with the crucified God through the persons God gives you to serve.’ That has stood me in good stead, and the journey continues.”
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