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Health and the Parish Pastor II


Two weeks ago I penned a column for CCD about Healthy Pastor’s.  I was amazed at the response and feedback.  The amount of page views, comments (both official and unofficial), and the clergy spouse’s that left me notes or reblogged the article tells me that I struck a chord. If you remember I finished with a list of ideas for congregations to aid their pastor to be healthy.  Today it’s not about our congregations – they can only do so much.  It’s not about our judactories – they give lip service.  It’s definitely not about our insurance providers – the horror stories I have heard regarding insurance and disability make me question whether or not they should be providing services at all, much less to a Christian institution.  This is all about you and me, those who wear funny robes, work too many hours, and have become a statistic and punchline in actuarial jokes (I know, it’s hard to believe actuaries joke, but they do and WE are the punchline)

I don’t need to repeat articles I hope you have read about our health and burnout rates.  I will share two anecdotes just to illustrate my point.  A neighboring pastor fell and broke multiple bones.  There was a story in the local paper about how amazing it was that he fell, broke multiple bones, and NEVER MISSED A SUNDAY!  I think that was the sub-headline of the article.  So, when this article passed my desk, dropped off by a well meaning parishoner I checked the lectionary.  As an aside – yes, I got the unspoken message, “Look at what he did Pastor, why do you take Sundays off?” Here is the kicker, the text he would have been preaching on the Sunday after the fall was about Jesus going out by himself to pray – needing to get away from the needs of the multitudes and from the disciples.  Yeah, irony!

Let’s get personal.  In 1995 our son was 18 months old.  I was trying to be a good pastor, a good husband, and a good father.  I was going like the Energizer bunny, never stopping or slowing down.  In truth I was probably being a horrible pastor, a neglectful husband, and an impatient dad.  February 20th of that year I had a knot on my neck the size of a baseball.  I went to the Emergency Room where I spent the better part of a Sunday, my wife arrived in tears, I called my mentor and Pastor in the Synod and he left his late worship service to come – the ER doctor was convinced I had Hodgkin’s.  Turns out it wasn’t, but I was ordered to bed for 5 days due to fatigue, burnout, and exhaustion.  Hey, I’m a smart guy – I learned my lesson, right?

NOPE.  Fast Forward, December 5th, 2011 – Emergency Room, chest pains, shortness of breath, blood pressure of 190/110, heart rate well over 100. I got to spend 24 hours in our local hospital due to… you guessed it, exhaustion, fatigue, stress, and anxiety.  I spent my daughter’s 15th birthday in the hospital.  She opened her gifts sitting on the end of my bed.  An image I will never forget.

Folks, take care of yourselves.  Yes, I have a list for clergy too.

1-  No.  It’s a sentence.

2- The word from The Rev. Dr. David Lose – The church is shrinking around us, “It’s not your fault.”

3- Even Jesus took time away.

4- As we moved our son into college this weekend and I cried like a baby all I could think of was, “I wish I had taken more time to be dad.”

5- Make a bucket list of things you want to do, and make those a priority.

6- Find someone you can talk to safely – I wouldn’t trade my therapist for anything.

7- Sometimes baseball players strike out with the bases loaded, sometimes sermons suck – there’s always next time.

8 – People’s definition of urgent and our definition is different – we have to draw a line.

9 – STOP… STOP… STOP.  Your congregation is puttering along like the rest of ours.  When you are talking with colleagues, be honest.  Tell us about the tough times, the scary things, and the joys.  Most clergy groups that go around a circle talking about their parish, if you are last you damn well better have changed water into wine at the last wedding or you look like a slackard.

10 – From Eugene Peterson, “Busy to a Pastor should sound to our ears like embezzler to a banker.”




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