Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Thinkin' 'Bout ....being a minister and a ministeree

A few weeks after our son died, my brother announced that he and his wife were going to find a church. (In their Catholic-Presby-Methodist household down in the ~ uh ~ more conservative and very evangelical ~ part of the state, the progress has been slow.) He was stunned by the outpouring of care that he had seen in our home in those first days, and realized that the two of them were utterly without spiritual community.

He was equally stunned when I mentioned casually last week that I really hadn't heard from my pastors (we have a senior pastor and an associate pastor) in . . . months.

Miscellaneous and unformed thoughts . . .

a blogger (source forgotten) commenting that once he started seminary, his pastor called him every single week for three years . . .

me, wondering out loud to my field ed class: What do you do? Do you keep an ongoing list of names and set aside time to phone or email or write to everyone on the list every week? Or make sure that someone else does? . . .

my brother, telling me that he's just hired a relationship consultant for his investment firm in which 2.5 people try to meet the needs of 180 clients, and wondering how two pastors could possibly meet the needs of 500 parishoners, and me saying that in my world we would call a relationship consultant an associate for pastoral care and yes, we need one . . .

two-thirds of my session and some other folks, too, showing up for my candidacy meeting at Presbytery, an hour from home one summer evening, and both pastors showing up when another member and I graduated from our spiritual direction program in August ~ yes, we do the special and unusual extremely well . . .

the occasional surprising and lovely letter or gift that has appeared over the past year from members of my church . . .

the couple of times I have made remarks intended to leave the door wide open for further conversation but no pastor has stepped through . . .

and mostly, the silence.

I'm pretty much over it. I get it ~ our church has amazing preaching, music, liturgies, educational programming, leadership development, mission involvement, and social justice commitments. It is, truly, a wonderful church, and two of us are planning to guide a weeklong prayer retreat there in Lent, for which we've received great support.

No one institution can do everything.

But my personal experience of loss and its aftermath is a huge factor in my discernment process for next year.

I think I would summarize it as follows: much of the foundation for the spiritual experience of grief was, indeed, laid by the church as worshipping community, as educational institution, as gathering of fellow seekers and hopers and learners and people of God. But an equal part of that foundation and 99% of the care that has followed came from the very individual attention of a couple of people, people not connected with my own church at all.

Interesting that, as I have been mulling this over for weeks, my spiritual director just preached a homily on the significance of one person caring whether someone sinks or rises.

But one person cannot be that one person for an entire congregation.

So what do you do? What do we do?

14 comments:

Mary Beth said...

That is a great question. I think that (for myself) I will try to assign myself to be that person to two others...one I know now and one I don't (the hard part!). Then change them periodically.

Feeling "found" and "held" are so very important.

beany said...

such a hard answer. i have no idea about spiritual community - i have none. i have a human community tho. in dealing with cancer treatments, i saw that there was a lot of alone time for the patient. think about what it must feel like for the person not at all good at reaching out. so lonely. but we cannot be all things to all people. part of the problem is that the organization needs to keep being and usually growing and that growth means that the people get left behind. the organization has it's own life. nature of the beast.
i don't have any answers but wanted to acknowledge that i understood a part of your post.

Elaine Dent said...

Such a painful question for a pastor. Soon all the things I could do or could have done for this person or that person surface. The truth is a pastor can't do it all or even notice all. It takes a whole community. Nevertheless, expectations for pastors are high. I am learning after a dozen years of this I am must listen, not to expectations (by others or idealistic self) but listen and live by the Holy Spirit's nudges and promptings and lots of grace. Yet many do not feel that is enough.

Kathryn J said...

I've written four replies now and deleted all of them. I wish that your pastor could have been there when you needed support.

Presbyterian Gal said...

I have yet to find a church that is a spiritual community for me. I get more community online with you all.

I'm so sorry yours was not there for your. I can relate in a different vein. It's hurtful.

We need a new church. A new structure of church. You will be a leader of it and then there will be spiritual community somewhere.

Gannet Girl said...

It's so frustrating.

Nearly everyone I know who has experienced a really huge life crisis has abandoned their spiritual home because they felt abandoned by it.

Obviously this is not a universal phenomenon. I also know people in church who have experienced significant disasters who felt supported and held together by their church communities.

I don't know which differs, the experiences or the expectations.

But I am developing a theory: that those who for whatever reason feel most abandoned by God cannot tolerate and are intolerable to the church community which by its nature and calling is optimistic and hopeful.

Mompriest said...

sigh. one of my deepest frustrations with parish ministry...it is a little easier to maintain individual connections in a small parish...at least I found it to be so.

Still, it is sad when the clergy move past one family and their grief, and on to another - and never look back, so to speak...and a good reminder to us all to strive for more attentiveness.

I've also tried to keep a personal contact with families and to hold them up in prayer (personal and parish) for one year following a death.

gabriele said...

I am not a minister or minister in training, just an accountant and so perhaps have no place in this debate? This then is a ministeree's viewpoint. Having been in three very different Communities of Believers over the last thirty years, one thing stands out as common and important to me. Not how did the minister or priest respond to the tragedies that enter my life - whether the death of a son or sibling or the recent serious injury to another in a biking accident - but how the Community responds. Most recently, as Hairy Boy lay in a coma in hospital my community gathered to say mass for him daily, and many offered prayer, and meals, and dog walking services and hugs and much more. Hairy Boy made a full recovery and is still biking and our Community is proud of that recovery.

Our priest's work of building us into a greater family that cares for each other paid plentiful fruit in my life, both as a giver and as a taker. This is what matters to me now. Not whether I've had a call or email from my priest but how my Community enfolds me.

Like the joyous and very merry tea we had celebrating a member's fortieth wedding anniversary in August - not part of their " official family" celebrations but uniquely our own Community's celebration. Like the gathering together of diverse members that resulted from one members drive to kit children in a rural orphanage with winter clothes and school books - each of us doing what we happen to be good at.

From my standpoint, A living Community of Believers is not an Institution but a large extended family - with all the ups and downs of family life.

It seems to me that there will always be expectations of a Minister that you can't meet and should not expect to meet (in my view). The only expectations that have primacy are God's. His are usually quite tall orders but thankfully he also supplies the graces needed to meet them.

I didn't realise I felt so strongly - your musings have made me see my own situation more clearly and with more gratitude and I shall approach another divisive debate going on with in our Community with more tolerance and love and a deeper appreciation of what we stand to loose.

Thank you.

Karen said...

Your summary statement in your comment seems absolutely right on to me. There is just little tolerance for prolonged grief and suffering. People rush in at the moment of impact and then they rush out and move on. I understand the difficulty of sustaining empathy, but I also know how much it hurts to be forgotten in grief.

Since you wear both hats now, I know you will take special interest in the bereaved. The only solution for a minister is to computer schedule regular contact with the bereaved.

Maybe you can write a book for all the clergy out there who mean well but just don't have a clue.

Althea N. Agape said...

let me start by saying it is not a substitute for the pastor, but Stephen Ministry can help with the day in, day out contact and care for the long haul in a large congregation where the pastor just physically can't get to every long term need every week. It guarantees a contact every week --- to listen. It's not spiritual direction or even pastoral counseling, but it is a physical member of the church community reaching out.

Word verification: Syedled -- they syedle up to you....

Stratoz said...

what do we do? ... hope.

I know it is my stock answer to so much, but when I imagine how I will respond to folk in need or how they will respond to me when I need help... it is all I got.

Rev SS said...

this is a huge issue for the church, imho! As Pastor of Congregational Care, I get to try to be sure these bases are covered in church of 800 people ... computer log, regular phone calls, coordinating TLC team, have been invaluable ... and now we are starting to be very intentional about becoming a church of small groups ... somehow we must care for one another at the same time we do all the other stuff ..

Mrs. M said...

Hi, Gannet. I think about this, too. For me, I think there's a real "priesthood of all believers" component to this question. If either the pastor or the community believes that only the pastor can and should provide that support, there's just not enough to go around.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. M and Gabriele have nailed it. It's not the pastor, it's the community - the pastoral role is to help build/lead that community not necessarily to be the one-and-only-one who's providing care. In fact, when the pastor assumes the superhero role, she exhausts herself and sometimes alienates those who also are called to pastoral care in the life of a particular congregation.

Just another thought I had about this: about 15 years ago I began, as a spiritual discipline, to send a written note EVERY DAY to a person that needed support/congratulations/company/condolences/encouragement/whatever. Some days it takes some prayerful time to discern who the "person of the day" should be, but usually I'm already praying about/for someone. And 15 minutes to write the note. The response of some people has been flabbergasting! Such a small thing can make such a big difference. It doesn't interrupt the other person's life but does open the door for conversation.