When I was a new curate 30 odd years ago, I had a phone call from an older clergy colleague who mentioned a book he had been reading that morning. It seemed odd to me that clergy had time to read books during the working day. But not as strange as the curate reported by a parishioner to their rector for buying a newspaper when they were supposed to be at work.
How times have changed … but in another way the pressures of work/life balance may be different but are still very much ‘there’…
Since the pandemic started my in-box is regularly filled with helpful and insightful articles about ministry in these challenging times. No less than five so far this week on a multitude of topics.
Taken one at a time, these can be a source of inspiration, encouragement and really helpful ideas to try out. But there is a problem (or do we prefer challenge) … there is a danger in viewing every aspect of the ministry we offer (clergy and lay people) that it is not really good enough.
One of the sins of the Church is guilt and we all suffer from it at times. We haven’t been in contact with enough people, the Stewardship Campaign isn’t reaching the target audience. Our website isn’t doing the job, our bulletins and other forms of communication aren't good enough … the list goes on and on.
There is no doubt that clergy benefit from support and encouragement: that’s the point of Deanery Clericus, Clergy Days, Clergy Retreats and the generous but vital provision of annual Study Leave. As clergy we give up these opportunities at our peril, for they feed us and we benefit from mutual support and the chance to drink from the well when we are thirsty. As parishes we should always encourage our clergy to attend these vital gatherings to allow them to be fed and nourished.
Perhaps most clergy have spiritual directors or soul friends these days. If not, I wonder why not. All of us benefit from having someone listen to our story and gently guide us to what needs attention in our lives. In the fast-paced work week, it often seems like this is just another commitment. But as clergy, we have ‘the cure of souls’ (to use a phase used in the Church in which I was ordained), and, we might ask, “who is taking care of our souls?”
We try to do the sensible things … not overwork, set boundaries, eat well, exercise, have interests outside the church, but are we nurturing our souls?
Yesterday was our Clericus (the regular meeting of clergy in a regional area, usually of the deanery) in the midst of a hectic day, in a hectic week that mostly wasn’t related to Advent and Christmas. It was, as it has always been, such a joy to arrive at a church service I didn’t have to plan or lead. Someone else was up front, we got to sit in the pews (physically distanced with masks) and worship the One who created us, who redeems us and sustains us.
But back to that start of this rant. My sense is we need to pick and choose what and when we read these articles as they can become a millstone as we engage in active ministry. If we read something and we start to feel guilty or overwhelmed or the need to add another huge item to our to do list then it is probably time to take the dog for a walk, even if its raining, or phone a friend