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Sometimes a lonely heart beats under that collar...

The following article from the Toronto Star was reproduced today in my local paper, the Chronicle Herald. It is quite an eye opener and very thought provoking...how often do we give any thought to the needs of our clergy?

I read in the article that 49% of ministers told researchers they had two or fewer close friends within their parish. 18% reported no parish friends at all.

Wow, those are surprising numbers. It makes me wonder how anyone can have the strength, the faith, the commitment to go into ministry...the call of God must be powerful indeed for anyone to follow it in the face of such isolation and feelings of loneliness. We are blessed to have such souls in our midst.

I think the article especially touches a chord in me because one of my best friends is a minister, and it makes my heart sad to think of her having to face these issues. Although at least I'm sure she isn't one of those with "no parish friends at all". (After all, I know she has at least one close friend in her congregation - me! And no doubt a few others as well.) I have to admit though, that it was only as our friendship grew that I actually offered my company, or thought to tell her she is in my thoughts and prayers. I had just assumed she had lots of close friends, family members, fellow clergy to turn to for comfort and support...which seems to be true in her case, but the point is, before she and I became friends ourselves, I never thought to ask if she wanted someone to talk to. And I never thought to ask my previous minister, Rev. Iain, either. Hopefully I will be more thoughtful with future ministers in my life!

Here is the article, and accompanying survey results:

Drowning out God's message

Spiritual connection is hard to maintain when ministers have to juggle fundraising and paperwork

Stuart Laidlaw
Faith and Ethics Reporter

Pastor Gene Tempelmeyer once lost two long-time parishioners to a fight over a vase.

"I swear, this story is true," the 53-year-old minister says, launching into his tale and the lessons learned about bullies in church and the stress it causes ministers.

Two elderly women had donated the large glass vase to the church, which was in rural Ontario, but the vase required numerous flowers to fill it. The decorating committee, responsible for getting the church ready for services each week, sometimes put in flowers – and sometimes did not.

The donors were not happy and approached Tempelmeyer, telling him in no uncertain terms that they wanted to see flowers in that vase each week or they would leave the church. New to the parish, Tempelmeyer knew the ultimatum would set the tone for his ministry in the town. He refused.

"I told them there would be no flowers in the vase until they removed the threat," Tempelmeyer remembers.

The two women left, demanding the vase back. Again, Tempelmeyer refused.

It was a power struggle, pure and simple, says Tempelmeyer, now chief pastor at Spring Garden Baptist Church in Toronto, and one he had to win or he would never be able to lead his new church.

The story is no surprise to former United Church minister Casey McKibbon. For more than 40 years, he has been helping fellow pastors deal with bullying parishioners and other sources of ministerial stress, often acting as a sounding board for preachers with nowhere else to turn.

"I've heard all the stories," he says.

Largely dismissed when McKibbon began his work in the 1960s, ministerial stress is gaining recognition. These days, declining church attendance and stretched resources often make matters worse for ministers struggling to just keep the doors open every Sunday.

"You've got 250 bosses and each of them has a different job description for you," McKibbon says of the challenge to keep parishioners happy.

Compounding the stress, adds Tempelmeyer, is that many parishioners expect more from the church than are willing to put in.

The upshot, he says, is that while spirituality brings men and women into the ministry, pastors are not judged on the job by how close to God they have become, but by whether their church is growing.

"It creates in us a temptation to do things that you can see – like putting on a big show that will draw a crowd. Then I can point to it and say, `I am successful.'"

Few young ministers, however, walk into their first church prepared for the stresses ahead of them, he says.

"We didn't get into this to please people. We got into it to please God. But you soon find that, to survive, you have to please people."

Tempelmeyer makes a direct connection between this dichotomy and ministerial stress.

While he readily acknowledges that many professionals feel a tension between the ideals they entered a career pursuing and the realities of working life, he says the stakes can be high for ministers and the avenues for relief limited.

"This cuts to the heart of who we are."

Working alone, often with two parishes under their charge as churches cut costs, ministers frequently have no one to turn to in times of need and stress.

"We can't exactly go out for a beer with the guys after work," Tempelmeyer says.

In a study released last year, conducted by Knox College at the University of Toronto, loneliness was counted as a major concern for ministers, who told researchers they often felt isolated in their congregations. They reported working an average of 50 hours a week and rarely taking a full day off.

With their social lives revolving around church functions, and fearing the perception of favouritism, 49 per cent of ministers told researchers they had two or fewer close friends within their parish. Eighteen per cent reported no parish friends at all.

"Relationally, they felt unfulfilled and lonely," says the report, prepared by the college's Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health.

That loneliness takes its toll, says Tempelmeyer. Of the 25 pastors he went through the seminary with 30 years ago, only half a dozen remain in the pulpit today.

Despite feeling called into the ministry as young people, Tempelmeyer says, pastors soon find they are mostly administrators: shuffling papers, working on fundraising projects and keeping on top of the accounts.

In the Knox survey, 77 per cent of ministers said they felt more like a chief executive officer than a pastor. Ninety-one per cent said being in the clergy had become more of a job than a calling.

All this can lead to a crisis of identity for many ministers, the study found. As the administrative side of the job bogs them down, the spiritual side is neglected and can even be a source of added stress and unhappiness.

"The idealism of seminary days and early ministry becomes a source of disillusionment," concluded the study, which calls for more training for young clergy and better supports from their church.

McKibbon says he tries to offer some of that support through his website, clergysupport.ca, and in long talks on the phone with clergy from across North America, letting them know they are not alone and not lesser ministers for doubting their calling.

Tempelmeyer points out that even Mother Teresa, on her way to becoming a saint in the Catholic church, doubted her calling and spiritual beliefs.

He had his own crisis of faith about a decade into preaching, when he considered leaving the ministry.

In the end, when a career counsellor told him he was best suited to be a preacher, he stuck with the job – but with a difference.

For the last 20 years, he has kept his spiritual life separate from his profession. His job is to be a minister at a North York church. His faith is his own concern, not something to be defined through his job.

"There's more to my relationship with God and Jesus than what happens here and in my job."

The split has worked, he says, sitting in his church office. He enjoys his job as a minister and finds his faith is strengthened. Even knowing now all the frustrations, the stresses, the power plays and the crises of faith, he does not wish he had found a different vocation.

"If I had to go back to 1977 and chose an occupation, I would still do it. I have been able to shape people's thinking and to help people in right ways."


---------------------------------------------------------

Surveys were sent in June 2003 to 1,252 clergy from the United, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist and Pentecostal churches. The 338 who responded rated their experience of emotions on a five-point scale (strongly disagree; moderately disagree; agree; moderately agree; strongly agree). The report was released last year.

70%
Moderately or strongly disagreed with the statement, "I feel fulfilled in ministry."

67%
Agreed or agreed strongly with the statement, "I sometimes project my job frustration on the family."

62%
Agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "Sometimes my outward appearance seems happy and content while inside I am emotionally distressed."

75%
Agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I am afraid to let my parishioners know how I really feel."

80%
Agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I feel guilty if people see me taking time off during the week."

50%
Moderately or strongly disagreed with the statement, "I am consistent between who I am and how I appear to others."

83%
Agreed with the statement, "My church wants a CEO rather than a pastor."

91%
Agreed with the statement, "Being `minister' is more like a job than a calling."

78%
Strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, "I feel my position as a minister demands perfection."

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Source: Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health, Knox College, U of T

Comments (1)

sandrac:

I wish I could say that I'm shocked by this, but I'm not. Being a minister (or a priest) would be a really tough gig. I can't even imagine the kinds of pressures involved.

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