Even as spring fills our senses and renews our spirits, this we know: clergy emergencies happen in all seasons. As I write I picture the faces of clergy that I know are currently in the struggle of their life—family emergencies, divorce, alienation from their congregation, alienation from their faith. These same emergencies can happen in every human life, but are different for clergy. The clergy role requires intentional structuring of helping resources—and it is ideal to keep those resources “dusted off” before the emergency strikes.

A clergy group that I have facilitated for three years meets every other month to share their life and ministry together. One of the members is between congregations and attends a church, seeing the “view from the pew” for the first time in more than a decade. What matters to this clergyperson on a Sunday morning? Is it the perfect sermon, the lovely liturgy, the music? No. It is having a simple relationship with other people: a space to belong, to be welcomed, loved, and greeted in the name of God. The clergy relationship moves the simple relationship to a complex one. Clergy need to create a strong net of such belonging beyond their place of work, for both “normal” times and to help them meet strain of the emergency times.

What clergy can do:

  • Work with a spiritual director in non-emergency and emergency times alike—a monthly meeting to reflect on where God is moving in good times and bad can be a tremendous resource.
  • Keep in honest and regular touch with five friends (outside your congregation). These should be people whom you can allow to see your flaws, with whom you can share what is going well and what is devastating. Why five? At any given “emergency” time, two will be on vacation, one will be in love, and one will be on his or her own emergency.
  • Check in at least a few times a year with a personal therapist and a “systems” therapist—someone with whom you discuss the systems of your congregation.
  • Get advice. When you are in emergency mode, it is hard to know how much your congregation “needs to know,” whom to tell how much and when. Have some professional colleague mentors in the wings whose advice you trust. Participating in an on going clergy group is one good way of building up the relationships of collegial mentoring that clergy need when the going gets tough.
  • Write—and don’t mail. It can help to designate an hour in the morning to write out what is going on for you. This writing is not to be shared, no matter how lucid you believe it to be.
  • Take a break. Maintaining a full work schedule in an emergency time can be enormously depleting. Consider the flexibility in your schedule. What can be deferred or delegated?
  • Seek a 24/7 phone friend—someone whom you feel OK to call at any hour.
  • Walk, sing, weave, garden, pray. Do the things that nourish your soul, every day, whether you feel like it or not. If you are in a non-emergency time, do these things all the more so they are readily accessible.
  • Look at God, looking at you. Most clergy I know are terribly harsh on themselves and would benefit from spending at least one minute each day in the Ignatian practice of looking at God, looking at you. Rather than assuming that God knows only what we know, stop to ask God what God actually sees.

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Featured Resources

AL214_SMClergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning by A. Richard Bullock and Richard J. Bruesehoff

Planned time away from the parish for study, rest, and spiritual renewal can be beneficial–and often necessary–for any pastor, as well as for the congregation. In this thoroughly revised and expanded edition of Alban’s popular Sabbatical Planning for Clergy and Congregations, Bullock and Bruesehoff provide the definitive guide to putting together refreshing pastoral sabbaticals that can help keep ministry vital and growing for the long term. Click here to read a chapter.

AL252_SM The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self-Care by Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley

The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self-Care is an ideal companion for clergy, lay leaders, and others who would like guidance about how to make changes in their personal life and ministry but do not want to read a text-heavy book about self-care.

The guide addresses seven themes:

  • Creating a Life Vision
  • Caring for Yourself at Work
  • Nurturing Your Relationships
  • Caring for Your Spirit and Body
  • Caring for Your Finances
  • Caring for Your Intellect
  • Sustaining a Life Vision

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