“How can we support our pastors and clergy leaders?” asks the Rev. Jennifer Browne. She suggests three things to do during Clergy Appreciation Month.
Clergy Assistant to the Bishop, Michigan Conference
October is Clergy Appreciation Month and the second Sunday of October, specifically, is Clergy Appreciation Day… or at least that is the designation given in 1992. There are websites that claim that the day was established by “pastors and religious workers,” as if we were part of a national organization that took a vote. Other websites claim that it was established by St. Paul. A stretch, I think.
Hallmark started selling Clergy Appreciation cards in 2002. Whether Hallmark’s motivation was to sell more cards or to encourage support for religious leaders (or both), it is more the case now than ever that such support is needed. Religious leaders have stressful jobs that have become even more stressful in the last 20 months. For United Methodist clergy, that stress is due not only to the pandemic and the decades-long cultural shift away from organized forms of Christianity but also from the delayed and still-looming division of our denomination.
I’ve written about those pressures before and won’t repeat myself here. My point today is to highlight a phenomenon I’m witnessing that I believe is the result of those same pressures on all of us: anger expressed at clergy leaders in inappropriate and even hurtful ways.
Let me get the disclaimers out of the way. Not all clergy are successful in their vocations; some of us lack the skills or traits that are necessary for effectiveness; all of us are human and make mistakes. There are times when even the most excellent of clergy need to hear constructive criticism. And, as is true for every human person, frustration and disagreement can be expressed in ways that help and in ways that hinder. Supporting one’s pastor doesn’t mean agreeing with them all the time or never sharing one’s concerns. In fact, the most powerful support I experienced in my years as a local church pastor came from others who could, with grace, kindness, and attention to timing, help me see where I could do better.
The ground is shifting under our feet, as a denomination, a nation, and a global community. We can feel it shifting but we don’t know when or how it’s going to settle. Right now, pastors and other church leaders are being expected to continue managing the traditional way of “doing church” while simultaneously leading the development of new, innovative ways of “doing church.” The first task is challenging even under ideal circumstances; the second is so new that we hardly have words to describe it. We are all going to have to try many things that fail in order to discover the things that succeed.
So how can we support our pastors and clergy leaders?
- Pray for them. Hold your clergy leader up to God’s light and ask God to give them the wisdom, courage, and stamina they need for the work before them.
- Speak thoughtfully and with kindness, even in moments of disagreement, frustration, or disappointment. Especially in moments of disagreement, frustration, and disappointment!
- Write a note telling them about something they did or said that you appreciate. You can do it this month and Hallmark will make it easier for you. Or you can do it in February by email or in June on the back of a spare offering envelope. It really is the thought that counts!
I don’t know why October was chosen as Clergy Appreciation Month. If there was a vote at some point by pastors and religious workers, I missed it. And while there is biblical authority for honoring “those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17), I don’t think the author had Clergy Appreciation Month or Day in mind.
But the Apostle Paul was quite clear about how we are to treat one another:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another, and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love…. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…. (Colossians 3:12-15a)