[Sorry, pigeons. I meant to get this out before Christmas as soon as I received it, but I only got to finishing it up today. – PB]
I got this today [Dec. 20, 2012] in my PeaceBang Facebook page private messages:
Hello there – I’m one of your FB followers and appreciate your posts – especially the one about suggestions for those who are feeling depressed – but I can’t run away from the biggest contributer to my mood – my job – I’m a pastor and it sucks not to be at least a bit in the Advent/soon to be Christmas mood… I have submitted my forms for a move – but it takes time – like months… so if you have suggestions for making it through with a better mood I’d be happy for that.
This isn’t public info yet that’s why I didn’t add it to the comments… I’m doing what I can – focussing as much as possible on the positive people etc but there will be some negative days ahead.. parts will be better after the Christmas chaos… but then there are budget, council and annual meetings … all of which will be hard to weather.
Sorry I don’t even really know you except for your comments here and I believe you are the author of Beauty Tips for Ministers – right? Thanks for all you do!
Dearly beloved colleague,
I am so sorry to hear that you are one of the many depressed pastors trying to put on a happy face and get through the holidays. I am even more sorry to hear that you are one of the many pastors whose job seems to be the key source of your pain.
I do have suggestsion for getting through Christmas and the months to come while you wait for a new assignment (I am not familiar with your tradition but I know it has bishops).
First, rely on sources of strength and laughter and joy. That could be family, that could be pets, that could be friends, that could be nature. That could be prayer. Try to lighten your heart as often as possible and by any healthy means possible. This may mean not being as available to your congregation as you have been. Whom does it serve if you are working hard and working badly? Your meanest critics won’t be happy no matter how hard you work, and those who support and appreciate your ministry will feel the strain and heartache that you bring with you to every encounter. Step back emotionally. Dare to think the thing that ministers are taught never to allow ourselves to think: “This is just a job.”
Yes, I said it. This is just a job. It is a sacred trust, it is a part of the fulfillment of your vocation and it is undertaken in the spirit of soul commitment between minister and congregation. However, from what you describe, you are not feeling the soul commitment from your congregation. I don’t know why this is or who’s to blame. But whatever the reason, you do not feel a mutual spirit of ministry between yourself and your congregation. It is not there. You have left in your heart. Now, in order to serve faithfully and with care for a good leave-taking, you must put some emotional distance between yourself and your congregation lest you bleed all over them in the next months.
Emotional distance is a healthy thing. Any minister who has been in a long-term pastorate knows that we cannot keep a healthy perspective if we cannot occasionally step away and say, “The church is fine for today. Today – in fact, this week– I am going to put in just enough emotional effort and no more so I can get my mojo back.” You fill that week with dinner parties, with smiling assurances that you’ll talk to that anxious parishioner soon, with dumb television shows, with re-arranging your bookshelves, with humming, with getting your hair and nails done. With letting God run the show. At the end of that four or five or six days, suddenly you may see how you’ve been ridiculous, how you’ve failed to minister to the health of the congregation while fretting about the over-bearing, humorless stomping around of the “managerial class” in your parish, and how you’ve failed them, too. By forgetting to see them as scared little children of God who are trying to control you because they have more faith in Burgermeister Meisterburger kinds of authority and control than in the love of God. Poor babies!! Only emotional distance can give you back the warm, affectionate pastor’s heart you need to firmly guide them off your back and onto something productive.
But how does a pastor take emotional distance at CHRISTMAS? Let’s be creative and think of some ways:
Pull up a chair in front of a creche set and spend an hour pretending to be each and every character there. Make it a visual Lectio Divina. Such stories will come to you!
Read cookie recipes. Don’t bake. Just curl up in a blanket and read the recipes.
Have a friend come over to watch all the old Rankin/Bass Christmas specials with you.
Collect voice mails all day and return all the calls in the evening. Only then.
Smile when you talk on the phone. Just pull your face into a smile. I swear by the holy baby Jesus, this really helps. It also makes your voice sound sweeter and nicer. You will feel that way, too.
You’ve already seen your therapist, right? Make an extra appointment.
Cross everything off your to-do list that isn’t essential. Make sure something fun is always on that list. And right now, for your own good, that fun thing should be at the top of the list. A priority.
Allow yourself to think “Oh my God, I shouldn’t be thinking that way, that’s not Christian” thoughts. I am absolutely convinced that this is central to pastoral depression. We take on this sick, dysfunctional, boundaryless persona — this bullshit pious, sweet, eternally patient and loving (the kind of love a doormat feels for a pair of muddy boots being scraped over it) pastor character inherited from a 19th century white male WASP culture, and allow it to eat our souls alive until we are left a ravenous, raging, repressed beast.
If I ever get around to writing that book, my dear, it will be about that. About how churches and ministers are suffering greatly for this horrible imposition of white male Victorian notions of pastoral persona are still being inflicted on a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, diverse, 21st century Church with deleterious effect on ministers (including white males!!) AND congregations.
So get rid of that. Flush it out. I said a swear word on this blog post JUST FOR YOU, lambie. I said it out loud to model for you the kind of freedom and flinging to the winds I want you to do of excess, self-harming inner propriety.
God called YOU to ministry!! YOU. When we enter the ministry we step into a patriarchal, emotionally stunted and repressed emotional culture. I want you and all my other readers to understand right now, deep in your soul, how much spiritual effort it takes to shine forth the authentic pastor of your being while carrying the burden of VERY OLD, ingrained cultural assumptions about who we are and what we should be like. We all get tired of bearing this burden, sweetheart. I pray with all my heart that your next congregation will celebrate you even as it offers helpful feedback and constructive, fair criticism. I pray that its leaders will support you and surround you with appreciation that is always louder and more ardent than the grumblings of the critics. None of us can give our hearts to this work without those conditions. This is a secret ministers have to break: we cannot do our work with broken hearts and under constant attack or even relentless suspicious scrutiny. I sing this from the rooftops because I see this too often and it is tragic. Because I am blessed to work in a minister-supporting, mutually appreciative and affectionate environment, I can speak on behalf of those of who who are not.
(And for those congregations that are suffering the abuses of a serious screw-up of a pastor, it goes the other way, too! There are lots of clergy-killers out there in our congregations, but there are plenty of clergy church-killers, too. Don’t protect these people. Claim your authority to flush them out.)
Back to your current predicament, sister minister:
Christmas is amazing. Hunker down in it and let it tell you what to say and do. Maybe this the year you need to tell the story about the three magi, and how they thought they had the Force mastered out until they knew it was this little Jewish baby who was going to be the ultimate Jedi. Maybe this year you’ll want to tell the Infancy Gospel of Thomas story about how little boy Jesus killed one of his playmates because he hadn’t figured out how to use his power yet (wonder why THAT one didn’t make it into the canon?).
Maybe this is the year you talk about how so many of our cherished Christmas stories aren’t in the Bible at all, and preach on The Little Drummer Boy, or on Rudolph (your religious tradition is pretty conservative, so probably not, but hey, maybe).
Remember, hurting colleague, there is a kind of shamanic function of the pastor that we often forget about – especially if we’re women and have internalized the Church’s ancient sexism. That function is the priestly function, and it requires not that we be sweet and pastoral, but that we be strong, courageous conduits of Holy Wisdom, manifesting that powerful spirit in the world through ritual and invocation. So maybe right now your pastoral self is off in the corner sucking its thumb. That’s okay. But while it is, can you bring forth that priestly, shamanic part of yourself on behalf of God and your community?
If so, by all means do. Channel the magic.
But if all you can manage to do right now is get dressed in the morning, put on your game face with your lipstick and plaster a smile on your face while you endure your days, know that you are not alone, that the change train is coming, and that hurt as you are, God is still with you and working through you. Let God do the heavy lifting right now.
My heart is with you.