October is Clergy Appreciation month and I write this post simply to encourage everyone to share a word of appreciation with their pastor, priest, bishop, rabbi, or spiritual guide. Now I make this request with reluctance because I am a pastor who is presently in my 44th year of pastoral ministry and I don't want to give the impression that I am simply seeking "pats on the back" for my years of service. To the contrary, I am very blessed in that I receive wonderful (and ongoing) words of appreciation from the members of the congregation I serve. However, I recently had an "eye opening' conversation with a number of clergy that prompted me to encourage others not to let Clergy Appreciation Month go uncelebrated....
Several weeks ago I was in a small "discussion group" with eleven other clergy reflecting on the topic, "Leadership in a Time of Crisis." Specifically we were talking about how our approach to organizational leadership was forced to change given the societal changes brought on by the covid-19 virus. It was a helpful discussion; but about thirty minutes in one of the clergy said, "I don't know if this is the time or place to bring this up, but I'm not doing very well. People in my congregation are at odds with one another and there is a lot of tension. Some of the tension has boiled into angry outbursts and I have been the target of some of these. In short, being in the ministry is really difficult right now." Hearing of this pastor's plight was sad, but it was only the beginning: Once this door was opened, pastor after pastor began to share how: difficulties with finances, the shut down of programs, the necessity of on-line meetings, the challenges of doing pastoral care, finding totally new ways to do meaningful worship, and the overall stress brought on by the stress we are experiencing as a nation, was taking a toll on their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Several of them said that they were looking for a way "out" and several said they had friends in ministry who simply wanted to "walk away" from it all. Quite frankly I was stunned by the breadth and depth of the despair I was hearing.
About a week after my small group experience, my concerns were reinforced by conversations I had with two other therapists. One is a therapist friend who lives in Pennsylvania, and she told me that her new client "in-take" for pastors, youth directors, associate pastors, and other religious workers was at an all time high in recent months. Another therapist friend, told me that he is currently seeing six priests (a significant increase) from the Roman Catholic community for emotional and stress related issues. From my small group experience and my recent conversations with other therapists, it became apparent to me that there is a significant crisis going on among many clergy in America today. This leads me to share two thoughts:
First, to the clergy in crisis: there are therapists who are well-versed in the struggles which are unique to clergy and if you are coming to a point of despair, help is available. I, for one, have offered professional counseling services for clergy for over 30 years. In addition to being an LMFT, I have participated in the Clergy in Crisis program through the Menninger Clinic and have served on the Board of Ministry for my Conference for 16 years (8 of these as the Psychological Assessment Coordinator). As a 44 year "survivor" of pastoral ministry, I understand well the challenges pastors (and other religious workers) face. Further, I know many other therapists who are "clergy sensitive" and I would be glad to provide names and contact numbers to any clergy who are seeking emotional/psychological/spiritual assistance.
Second, for congregants and parish members: please don't let the month of October go by without saying a word of encouragement to your clergy and spiritual leaders. It is amazing how even a few words of kindness and appreciation can boost one's morale and spirit. An encouraging card, a phone call, or a personal word of thanks, can make a huge difference in the life of one who has given his/her life in service to others. It is easy to assume that our pastor or parish leader is always doing, "OK." But such may not be the case. Please remember to say, "Thank you." "We appreciate you." "We love you," or some other words of uplift to your pastor today. Remember the words of Proverbs 25:11: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." I can think of no better time than now to put this verse to work and to remember that October is Clergy Appreciation Month!
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.