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Health and the Parish Pastor


Today’s blog may cause some folks to be uncomfortable – that is the intent.  It’s time to be uncomfortable.  There are issues that we can no longer be silent about and according to my therapist my silence is not healthy for me to continue – so, let’s talk about being healthy, therapy, and some of the stress and anxiety that surround us.

When clergy gather in groups there is one guaranteed topic of conversation – Stress!  The word may never be mentioned out loud, but it is there, lingering just below the surface as we discuss congregational conflict, schedules, demands, shrinking attendance, budgets stretched thin, staff conflict, what our doctors are saying to us about weight, blood pressure, etc…  I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Folks, not many of your pastors are healthy.  It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.  Look at articles written in the past two years in the New York Times.  Listen to the story from NPR.  It’s not just physical health, the amount of clergy who are burning out and struggling with mental health issues is growing as well.  The number one prescriptions that go through Clergy Health Care agencies are for Blood Pressure and anxiety.  Not only that, but there are a growing number of clergy that secretly identify themselves as atheist as this article in USA Today shows.

These numbers scare me.   They are frightening, these are your pastors, your colleagues, they may be the person you see in the mirror every day.  I’m not here to frighten you any further – I am here to talk to congregational members for a minute.  How you can help your pastor.  You see, we don’t often talk about our stress to folks outside of the black shirted fraternity – we don’t usually speak of these stresses to our spouse because it puts them in a precarious position.

We learn our lesson early in ministry if we mention the stress of ministry.  “Well, Pastor,” we hear, “you didn’t go into this for the money.”  No, we didn’t – and trust me when I say that money is but a small portion of the stress – but we hear the unsaid sentence loud and clear, “you knew what you were getting into.”  Now, that’s not everyone, don’t allow me to paint with too broad a brush there are those that encourage us to take time, to breathe, to leave work at work.

The problem becomes that most clergy are not Word and Sacrament folks any longer – we are the religious professional.  Hospitals, nursing homes, administration, congregational conflict specialists, budget experts, janitors, educators, supervisors and the list goes on. It creates stress and conflict inside the pastor not always because of others expectations but due to our self imposed expectations.

I wish I had an answer to these issues, because these are frightening when it comes to the future of our congregations.  If I had an answer I could be a consultant, write books, and travel the country speaking to clergy groups.  What I can say to parishoners is this:

1-Take a good look at your pastor and see them as a human being

2-Pray for them – Support them, if you see them out in town – just say hello and don’t talk about your neighbors, cousins, brother in laws, grandmother who could use prayer

3 – Say thank you – with words, with a short note, if you see them out to lunch, pick up their tab – something small goes a long way.

4 – Don’t take the “That’s pastor’s job” bait.

5 – Support them to take time away for themselves and their family – and then support them when folks in the congregation murmer.

6 – Ask them what they are doing for themselves and how their prayer life is.

7 – Volunteer to be active in the congregation – more hands make easier work

8 – Take them to lunch, not to talk about parish life or struggles in your life – but just because

9 – Show up to worship.

10 – When you have a concern bring a solution – Believe me, we know giving is tight, attendance is down, young families are going to the “mega church” around the corner and it hurts us as much as it does you and if we had a solution we would be applying it.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Beth Smith-Gunn permalink
    13August2012 09:14

    Amen and Amen!!!

  2. 13August2012 10:17

    I can’t even tell you what a relief it is to see this in print. I especially identified with the “secret atheist.”

  3. 13August2012 11:42

    Necessary and timely words. I wonder how many people of faith will read this and say to themselves, “But that’s not “our” pastor.” Yes, yes, it IS the pastor in your congregation. And while I am not a “secret atheist,” I do think that if I weren’t a pastor I would be SBNR – spiritual, but not religious.

    KMS @ CCD

  4. Fr. Joseph Summerville+ permalink
    13August2012 11:50

    Excellent, Dave! And so very true. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel, or have felt.

  5. 13August2012 14:17

    Very well said! We are all in this together. . . to care for one another, to look out for each other, to be fellow pilgrims on this faith journey! There is accountability on both sides of the altar!

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