October is Clergy Appreciation Month. "What?!" many of you might say. "You only work two hours a week. How hard is that?" Would that be true. Really, have you thought about what your pastor (or a pastor you know) actually does, or the stresses they experience? I have been in active ministry, sixteen years as an ordained minister, for the past forty-three years. I'm still excited about what I do. It's not always easy, but it has always been worth it. But this is not the norm according to recent studies. I'm just lucky I guess.
A recent article in the New York Times said, "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could."
In one survey 33% said being in ministry was an outright hazard to their family. 50% say they feel unable to meet the needs of the job. 75% report times of severe stress, causing anguish, worry and bewilderment, anger, depression, fear and alienation.
There are reasons for these results. Some are simply part of the call. We are the ones who know the pains and sorrows of our community, things no else knows. Our work is demanding, and despite our best efforts, we are often criticized for what we do. We are the last of the general practitioners, fixing the plumbing, painting a room, cooking a meal and counseling a young couple engaged to be married all in the same day. We might have a plan for the work of the day but there are constant interruptions to that work. Important interruptions mind you. Like a family in crisis, someone who has gone to the hospital, a homeless person asking for help. We are told not to be too close to our community. We are told not to be too distant from our community. We are involved in the most intimate of human experiences, births and deaths, separations and celebrations. I've held people in my arms as they have died. I've held a newborn as we welcomed her into the life of Christ.
And there are reasons for these results that we can choose to change. One of the most unhealthy things we can do is allow ourselves to become isolated. Unfortunately that is easy to do. I was playing golf on my day off one Friday and was joined by another golfer. From the first through the eleventh hole this guy swore after every shot. Every shot! It got pretty bad. Then on the twelfth hole he asked, "So what do you do for a living?" "I'm the pastor at the United Methodist Church in town." (long silence) "Oh."
He never said another word.
You see, there is something about who we are that sets us apart. Whether we like it or not. We have to continually work on remaining within a community of family, friends and colleagues. But is isn't always easy. Too often we think if we do something for ourselves we are being selfish. But if our emotional and spiritual lives are empty how can we give an emotional or spiritual lift to others? It's important to take time for renewal. Jesus did. It's called setting healthy boundaries.
October is Clergy Appreciation Month. So sometime this month say a kind word to your pastor. Give him/her a hug maybe. And remember we are all on this faith journey together.