things to bear as a Pastor/Priest is when the people whose struggles you have born, whose tears you have comforted, whose cares you have endured, turn on you, especially in your hour of need. This happens, a lot. For every member of the clergy who has sinfully and horribly abused members of their communities there are many more pastors who have been abused by their parishes. Long hours, Ridiculously low pay. Extraordinary demands, Constant back biting and critique. The list goes on and an increasing number of clergy have simply given up and gone back into the world for the sake of their sanity, their families, and their souls.
I know. I’ve been there. I know what its like to be curled up on the floor of a parsonage in tears because the deacons fired you for no good reason. I know what its like to have people literally yell at you and actively plot to hurt you, your ministry, and your reputation. Some of the cruelest people I’ve ever experienced in my life have been regular church goers. The wounds are deep, lingering, and profound.
To this day I always keep at least one eye open at all times when dealing in church matters not because I like the way that feels but rather because hard experience has made this a necessity for survival. I have no intention of reliving any of those sad moments and exposing myself or the ones I love to that kind of hurt. I look for hidden agendas, for the lies that are inevitably told, for the game within the game. I’d love to give myself to people without reserve, without fear, without care, but to do so is to be unwise. There’s a difference between a martyr and a fool and in time you realize that if you’re bled dry there’ll be nothing at all left to share.
I know this sounds harsh, even cynical. I desperately don’t want to be that way but as they say “Once bitten twice shy” and the truth is that I, and many others who’ve tried to work out the call of God to serve in the Church, have been gnawed on through the skin to the bone. You never forget that, even if you want to, and it makes you feel bad for feeling that way even as you know you have to hold something back so there’s some shelter when the walls cave in. And they will.
So why write this?
Part of it is reflection on a friend from the “way back days” who is going through this whole thing for himself, again. He’s not a jerk. He’s not a heretic. He’s not slept with anyone. Yet that didn’t stop a parish from rolling him. I feel sad for him, his wife, his family, and angry too that he’s going to have to walk some of the path I and thousands of others in ministry have had to travel. It makes my heart ache.
The other part of it is for you, the reader, to hear the personal side of my story so you realize those of us who try our best to serve God and you as Priests, Pastors, and Ministers, have made ourselves vulnerable for your sakes. We lay our lives open on an all day, every day, basis and when you turn on us its a very serious thing and can leave a lifetime of scars. Yes, there are clergy out there who teach heresy and need to be removed. There are a very small group of clerics who will take financial, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse of the people in their flocks. Sometimes, even, a Pastor has done all they can in one place and needs to be renewed in another. This all happens. Yet for the very most part we really are, as far as humanly possible, trying to serve you with our best efforts. We really do care. We really want you to have the life God would have for you. And we really hurt when you take the gifts we offer and trample on them.
All I ask, for myself and for those who serve you in the church, is that you realize this and think before you make that harsh remark. Think before you say the unkind word behind our backs. Think before you consider how to hurt us. Think before you add one more unrealistic demand on the dozens already on our plate. Think hard before you decide you’re better off without us and that the next one coming down the line will better suit your needs. Think before you project your own darkness on us.
Above all pray for us. Most of us will never say out loud the things I’ve just said. Most of us will work through our hurts, try our best to forgive, and find a way to carry on. Most of us will bear our wounds in silence. Most of us will find a way to hang on because we believe that this is more than a job, its a holy calling. And when the load is too hard to carry we, for the most part, just slip out the back door and try not to make too much of fuss in our departure. Your prayers, then, become life and light and hope and calm for us. They are food and water in a land where hunger and thirst are common. They lift us up, and they lift you up as well. Just knowing they are there can be a cool wind on a torrid day.
Tonight, out there somewhere, is a Pastor sitting by themselves wondering if it’s all worth it. They thought this was what God wanted them to do but now they’re not quite sure. They’re torn up inside between stark choices and what they’re seeking is just a little peace, a little light, and a little hope. The world outside the church seems like a shelter and the walls of the church like a nightmare. Where will you be in all of this? Answer that question correctly and it can make all the difference.