Most of you know I'm on the board of RevGalBlogPals, a non-profit that started as a blog-ring. The ring grew out of a group of bloggers who had gotten together on the internet in the early 2000's, and most of them were women in or headed for ordained ministry.
I'm not in or headed for that. But I love these folks and what they talk about, and I count some of them as my best friends...even if we have never met. You can read more about the diversity of the group here. I've spent a lot of time in the last several years supporting clergy, and also hearing about some of the things that make their calls difficult, painful, draining.
In discerning that I was NOT called to ordained ministry, I started saying, "I'm called to be a faithful and involved layperson, and to support my own clergy and other clergy as much as I can."
What does that really mean, to support clergy? Do they need special support?
Today there's a heartbreaking story online about a pastor who ended his life by suicide. I have no idea what happened with that person and his congregation. But, for whatever it's worth, I present here my promises to the clergy at my own parish:
1. If I have a question for or a problem with you, I will take it directly to you. I might run it by my spiritual director, but no one in my own congregation.
2. I won't hear or participate in gossip or complaining about you. If I am approached with that sort of thing, I will always say, "you know, we don't really know the whole story on that, and I don't think our talking about it will help."
3. If someone comes to me with a personal complaint about you, I'm going to tell them to talk with you directly.
4. I will not expect you to be perfect, nor to be the Beloved Former Pastor (or even to be like him/her).
5. I will not expect you to be my best friend, or to confide in me about anyone else at this church.
6. I will remember that you have a personal life and it's not all about this place. I will support your setting healthy boundaries.
7. I will always be praying for you, for your work in our parish and for things I know nothing about.
8. This is my church, and that of the others in the congregation. I am, we are, responsible for its growth, support, and success. You will leave us eventually, and that is right and proper. Even if I don't love everything about a particular clergyperson, I'm not huffing off mad. This is my church, my community, my spiritual home.
I hasten to add that I have taken several Safe Church trainings, and I know that there are some times to speak up...to a vestry member, diocesan official, etc. But those times are the exceptions.
We tend to think of clergy as larger than life, and we also often ascribe our own issues to them. In the Episcopal church, where clergy are often referred to as "Father X" and "Mother X," that is especially tricky. I found recently that when my rector requested something of me as an altar server, I was coming back crisply with, "Yes, sir!" Um, really? Just because the way he addresses me reminds me of my dad in those situations does not mean that I have to respond as if I am nine years old. (I'm working on that.) "Pastor" might be an easier honorific, but we don't use that term.
I personally address clergy by their first names unless I am speaking to or in front of youth, where I use those titles as a courtesy. I need to remember that my clergy are people...people who have joys and sorrows and foibles and who serve alongside me, with special obligations and responsibilities.
What do you think? How do you support your clergy?