by Rev. Chad Abbott
I attended the Indiana-Kentucky Conference clergy retreat in January of 2018 here in Indianapolis and our leader for the two days was the Rev. Leah Robberts-Mosser. I have known and worked with Leah on projects in previous settings and have always admired her ministry. On one of the days of this retreat, Leah said some variation of the above quote and it struck me that most of us, including clergy, are unaware of just how challenging it is to be a pastor. We hold confidences, we wrestle with conflicts and criticisms, receive and sit with others in their grief, celebrate the moments of great joy, and cast vision with a variety of leaders on how we change the world in the name of Christ. In many ways, the work of pastoring a church has always seemed in my mind to be a ministry of accompaniment. We accompany others on their spiritual journey and what a critical role this is in our world. Leah was right, we cannot underestimate how hard the task and how great the need for clergy self care.
Because the demands of pastoring, many clergy struggle with isolation, with depression and anxiety, with loneliness, and wondering whether or not our work even matters in the scheme of God’s kin-dom. Believe it or not, Church, this struggle is not only real, but is present in well over 70% of active clergy. This might seem staggering, but it is true and it makes me realize that we need to be intentionally aware of the health of our pastors, chaplains, members in discernment, and retired clergy. There are many ways to do this and I think we are attempting to do this very thing in the Indiana-Kentucky Conference, but let me just recommend one step.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month and while clergy do not need to be coddled, it is important that we know that our work matters. I wonder what it would be like for us across this Conference to find ways to express to our clergy that what they do matters? What would it be like to shower your senior and associate pastors with letters expressing how their work impacts and challenges your faith development? I wonder what it would be like to reach out to our chaplains with gratitude because many of them feel isolated from the mainstream of UCC clergy given that their settings are non-parish based? I wonder what it would be like to take these remarkable people out for coffee simply to give words of blessing and support? I know that you all are creative folks and that there are a million ways to remind clergy that what they do matters, but I want to urge you on this Pastor Appreciation Month to find a unique way to express this to them.
I also want to say a brief word as the Conference Minister to our active clergy, retired clergy, chaplains, licensed and commissioned folks, and lay ministers. I see you and you matter. I know the ways in which you show up in the lives of those who need you, even when it is at 11 pm at night and you have left your family to run to the hospital. I have seen the ways that you have stood up for the marginalized in your communities through your presence at the heart of injustices. I have seen you travel hundreds of miles to show up for conference meetings, boards, or working groups because you know that the work of covenant is important. I know that you sometimes struggle with life and work integration when it comes to balancing your family, your congregation or hospital or campus, and the continuing work of self-discovery in your own spiritual journey. This is not easy work and I simply want to express that you are not alone and that what you do matters.
Friends, clergy or not, what you do matters and I leave you with this video (below) that expresses so well this sentiment. Keep going. Reach out when you need support. Live your work passionately in ways that embody the call with which God has placed in your lives. And above all, be assured that the Christ who came among us is with you always, even to the very end of the age. You are not alone and your labor is not in vain.
Peace, Blessings, and Compassion,
Rev. Chad R. Abbott
Indiana-Kentucky Conference, United Church of Christ