After worship service on Sunday, a kind and sweet spirited parishioner pulled me over to the side and said, "I heard your feelings were hurt. I heard about your article in the newsletter. Are you okay?” I truly appreciated this person checking in with me! Be assured that I am elated to be the pastor of St. John the Evangelist, and I am not hurt! Life is good! In my February 2018 newsletter, I attempted to express my realities as a parish priest, and I would venture to say the realities of many clergy in parish ministry. Ordained ministry has its challenges. Let me give you an example since we are talking about it.
During my first semester in seminary at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, I took a pastoral care class. The reading syllabus took me by surprise. One of the books on the list was called Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack by G. Lloyd Rediger. (My copy is on my office bookshelf) A video series has been produced since the book came out in 1997. If you would like to see the trailer go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M5mWed56vs. The title of the documentary/series is Clergy Killers: 'Toxic' Congregations Lead to Widespread Job Loss. The second required reading was called Nasty People: How to Stop Being Hurt by Them Without Becoming One of Them by Jay Carter. Really? Who would have thought! I wanted to pack my apartment and withdraw from seminary, but I had already answered the call to ordained ministry, left my job, sold my home and furniture, and had moved to Rochester, NY to begin seminary.
We live in a broken and fallen world, and unfortunately there exist congregants that seek the demise of parish clergy. Sometimes it is an unsolicited “picking a fight” when nothing has been said or done against the “killer". In the secular world people are fired when they behave badly and destructively in the workplace environment. In the Church no one can get fired because everyone is a volunteer, however, a person might be asked to leave a ministry. Where else in the world can a person(s) blatantly and publicly disrespect a clergy person through words, actions, sabotaging, and continue abrasive behaviors until the clergy person's spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical health decline, and a congregation's morale declines and congregants leave the church? You guess it...the Church. I read about this in seminary, so I am not making this up. It is a harsh reality for all of us to understand and our responsibility to stop it when clergy killing begins to occur.
Clergy said to God "yes, here I am" in hopes of serving God's people, consecrating the elements, and leading the people in mission and ministry. Many clergy sold homes, moved families, quit jobs, relocated to strange and new places, lost old friendships and relationships, navigated through the ordination process, and accepted pay cuts to led parishes--a great deal of sacrifice to serve God and to preach the Gospel. Notice we did not say, "yes, here we are, abuse us because we are an easy target for misplaced aggression.”
Take some time this Lent to pray for all clergy around the world who are confronted by clergy killers.