Greetings to all in the Love of Jesus Christ:
“What’s the hardest thing about being a minister?” someone once asked me. My response: “Standing in the pulpit, looking out at the congregation, and seeing all kinds of different needs.”
One Sunday I looked out and saw a young couple with their newborn son, bringing him to church for the first time. They were glowing, and I wanted to preach a sermon celebrating God’s goodness and the miraculous gift of life.
Right in front of them was another young couple, struggling to fight back tears. I was the only one they’d told that they had just suffered a miscarriage and were grieving the loss of the future joy they’d begun to imagine. They had come to church that morning seeking comfort and a place to grieve. They got there early, told me their news, and sat down in a pew to pray – not expecting a couple with a newborn to sit right in front of them.
As I glanced around the sanctuary, I saw an older couple whose son had just been arrested, a man back in church for the first time since losing his wife, a middle-aged couple who had just gotten married, a few climate-change activists and a man who often shouts at them saying it is all a hoax, a woman running for the city council, dedicated to fighting for a living wage for all city employees, and a young person trying to own their transgender identity. All these people came with strong emotions, looking to me for a word from God. I had things to say to each of them – but it was hard to do it all at the same time. Leading a congregation of people with different needs, different political beliefs, and different lifestyles can be a big, stressful challenge.
One of my Regional Ministry colleagues recently shared a study of pastors done by the Wisconsin Council of Churches which dealt with clergy stress. It found that in the last 6 months, over 25% of clergy have considered retiring early or resigning. Clergy have struggled with some members pressuring them to return to in-person worship while others have lobbied against. Clergy have struggled to learn technology and produce on-line worship, often having to serve as their own technology specialist. Clergy with children have had to figure out how to both work and take care of their congregation while at the same time managing their children’s school. And like all of us, clergy are struggling with the tensions of living in a highly-polarized society.
COVID-19 has been hard on all of us. I don’t mean to say that clergy have the most stressful jobs or are the only ones juggling work and home. Life is stressful for all of us these days. But I do ask you all to take a moment and think about your pastors. If you are in a position to write them a card, take them a meal, or see if you can help with technology, I encourage you to do so.
Above all, let’s treat each other with grace. Let’s recognize that life is stressful for all of us right now. I once heard someone say: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” So if you disagree with someone, if you want your pastor — or anyone — to make different decisions, it’s fine to talk with them. But please do it with love, recognizing that they are a child of God seeking to do their best to navigate this journey of life.
Dios les bendiga!
Regional Minister and President, Christian Church in Arizona
P.S. If you’d like to watch a detailed summary of the Wisconsin Council of Churches report, along with recommendations of how to be a healthier church, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jcXASF8Tq0&feature=youtu.be