I’m grateful to my friend Pam Garrud to pointing on her Facebook profile to this piece in the New York Times about clergy burnout. As someone who needs medication to control hypertension and whose girth has increased, some of it hit home.
I’m not one of those ministers who fails to take their annual leave in the way the first page of the article describes. I do try to take some exercise. Usually after the school run, I get out the iPod and go for a brisk walk. However, that doesn’t stop me wondering what some less charitable members of a congregation might think if they saw me out walking. I was told at college that ministers should be at their desks at 9 am. I, however, might well be walking. Of course, most church members are fine about it. It just takes the vociferous minority. Not that they ever say it to your face. You hear on the grapevine.
The importance of stillness and sabbath is critical. I have seen ministers wreck themselves with workaholism. In the middle of the day, I was able to smell the alcohol on the breath of one (now deceased) Superintendent. To say nothing of how he spoke publicly about his wife.
But the NY Times piece rightly goes further than just ministers not taking care of themselves. On the second of the two pages, it talks about the pressures of declining and aging congregations. It talks about how clergy push themselves further, due to these factors. What it doesn’t say is that those same factors lead some churches to place extra strains of expectation upon their ordained staff. ‘Miracle worker’ might just as well be put in the job description.
To that end, when I was formally welcomed here, I quoted Monty Python:
He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.
The trouble is, many of us in the ministry don’t believe in the grace we preach. And nor do our congregations. We are paying a price.