samedi, janvier 30, 2010

Last column of clergy shadows series

As I complete this series on the dark side of the ordained ministry, one thing has become starkly clear: clergy are much more like the flock they pastor than they, or their congregants, sometimes wish to believe.

Some struggle with depression.

Others get ensnared in online pornography or in physical sexual misconduct.

Men and women of God may grapple with addiction, whether it is to booze or to sex.

And even if they don't succumb to one of these temptations, clergy can have "special friends" in their parishes, creating cliques and pushing away others who may feel they don't belong.

Immersed in clergy dysfunction for a few months, I had to raise my head out of the muck and ask: How do the majority of ordained men and women stay healthy?

• • •

For some perspective I turned to the Rev. Dr. Stephen Treat.

Director and CEO of the Philadelphia-based Council for Relationships, and a prominent therapist who often appears on local media, Treat also is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor.

Treat's advice to clergy can be summed up in four words — take care of yourself.

"There's a general feeling of low self-worth among some clergy," Treat said. "They end up helping other people, doing good works and never putting in boundaries. "

In addition, Treat said, lots of clergy isolate themselves from groups of colleagues where they could get some support. Ordained men and women can be "rescuers" he added. "That's a dynamic in which you don't acknowledge your own pain."

Some congregations build their clergy up too much and don't see them as human beings — a wounded shepherd is very susceptible to that, he noted.

What can clergy and congregations do to hedge against misconduct that can fracture congregations and stigmatize clergy for a lifetime?

Treat has some practical suggestions for clergy.

Make sure you take your vacation days — all of them.

Take care of the relationships you are in.

Some congregations and members of congregations put clergy on a pedestal right up close to God.

"Be differentiated," Treat advises. "Don't judge yourself, but be balanced, so that when someone puts you up there you take it with a grain of salt."

As for congregations, they can encourage healthy behavior on the part of their leaders by respecting boundaries by calling during office hours, making sure the pastor is paid well and generally helping clergy practice a healthy lifestyle, Treat said.

"Functional parishes respect a clergyperson's boundaries," he said.

In thriving congregations, I would add, laypeople also report misconduct to church leaders and judicatory officials and, rather than colluding in it by staying quiet, hoping someone else will be the coal mine canary.

• • •

After spending a lot of time immersed in tales of misconduct, I'd forgotten that most of the clergy I know are quite sane, positive members of local communities, the kind of people you'd meet watching their sons at a Little League game or doing aerobics at the local Y.

The majority of clergy handle the pastoral tasks of congregation life beautifully, Treat said. And he sees a lot of them — the council runs numerous programs and seminars for clergy.

While we might hear about the ones who have problems, many more clergy have a healthy sense of who they are, lead relatively balanced lives, and have gotten good education about self-care, and sexual boundaries, he noted.

When I was a newly ordained minister, I observed some older clergy who were seemingly doing their time until they could retire. The joy of being a pastor had, as far as I could tell, long ago burned out for them.

But I've also seen clergy with 30 or 50 years of congregational experience under their belts serve with great joy and a strong belief that God has put them in the right places at the right times. It's not easy being a clergy person in the early years of the 21st century.

In this time when religious institutions are strained by the forces of secularism, pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders aren't given respect and authority — they have to earn it. The era of "Father says" is dying, if not already dead.

I don't think that's a bad thing.

The transition to a less hierarchical model of leadership is a chance for both shepherd and sheep to realize that they serve in community as a sign of something bigger than they are — and to help each other become, with mutual forgiveness, respect, awe and laughter, the best that they can be.


2 commentaires:

singedwingangel a dit…

I don't know if you have ever heard of a Pastor named Jesse Duplantis but he covers this very same thign in many of his sermons. he discusses how as a traveling pastor he has run into many who preach are also ensnared in addiction like lust and pornography. He is a wonderful guy who is funny as all get out and makes it so easy to understand. Ya know what anger me most is the church's inability to recognize and offer hope , when somethign is exposed to the light of God it cannot stand. So why hide the truth, reveal it and deal with it..

BigLittleWolf a dit…

Illuminating. I am aware of one instance of a brilliant clergyman whose divorce wreaked havoc with his career, ultimately forcing him out of his role and spiritual leader where he was located.

The loss to those who learned from him and were inspired by him was significant, and I can only imagine the profound sense of loss he must have felt. Essentially judged and evicted for being human, though I believe his own experience made him less judgmental and more compassionate as a human being, and a man of deep faith.