Thursday, December 19, 2013

Socially Acceptable Outlets for Clergy

Pastors have few socially acceptable outlets to cope with their frustrations and pain.

While all people deal with frustration and pain, pastors have fewer places to reveal it.

Early in ordained ministry, I thought hanging out in bars might not be a good idea. I figured that swearing up a storm might be a problem (though I offer gratitude to Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber for breaking some of these barriers).

Yes, prayer is a good thing for the soul.

Yes, visiting a therapist for mental health carries less of a stigma than it used to, although it's hard to say whether a pastor would want to advertise they're in therapy.

Yes, having meaningful friendships provides strength for any person, including pastors. However, the ministry rhythm is different than that of the normal working world. It's hard to connect with friends outside the church when many use Saturday as that day, a day where I am gearing up for Sunday.

I thought I had found a wonderful, socially acceptable outlet in exercise. Exercise even carries risk. At one point, I had taken up the hobby of playing pick up basketball 3-5 days per week over lunch, investing 1-2 hours. Hoops was great for my physical, mental, and social health. That time invested was criticized in my congregation, because I was doing this in the middle of the day. Never mind I was sometimes called in the middle of the night and invested several evenings per week in meetings. I held my ground on exercise, but recognized that wasn't even entirely socially acceptable.

The most socially acceptable coping mechanism in ministry? Food. I'm not saying healthiest outlet, but most socially acceptable. A group of clergy resembles the general population, and sometimes, we look worse. Some clergy gatherings are scary in terms of health. When the pressures of pastoral life build, it's sometimes easier to just accept the 2nd piece of cake (let alone the 1st) from Mrs. Johnson than to say no. Sometimes, the cake is just good.

Every pastor has their own stories related to the common human desire to be heard. Not merely theological, pastoral, or leadership proclamation/ideas heard (that comes at least weekly), but the stuff that makes truly makes us human. I see that pastors are still afraid to share self, and I see it pop up every day when I look at Twitter. At this point, Twitter carries the appearance of safety, because it is still obscure enough that congregation members don't convene there. I have colleagues who share much on Twitter. Also, the option to create an "anonymous" account provides some cover to express frustration with wit, sarcasm, and/or candor. In recent months I have found at least 1-2 (new to me) accounts daily with handles like Angry Pastor, or Pastor with Issues, or Cranky Clergy. These pastors make me laugh, because I've been there. Some days I still am.

Are we doing any better in caring for clergy? It's difficult to say. Yes, each clergy person bears responsibility for claiming their own health. The health insurance, availability of spiritual directors, lessened stigma of therapy, and health program options are all good ideas, and there are more available. The variables are numerous that contribute to the degree of health in any clergy person. The signs I see in myself and colleagues tell me we still have a long way to go.

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