“Church Pew with Worshippers” | Vincent van Gogh | 1882
1. YOU are a source of encouragement to us. All too often the people in our pews imagine that clergy are islands of devotion – except, of course, when we fail spectacularly and publicly. We aren’t. Like everyone else we draw encouragement from others who are faithful and courageous. You shouldn’t be that way for our sake, of course, but don’t forget, there are days when we draw renewed strength from your example.
2. Don’t forget to show up. A bishop or a search committee may have been instrumental in our coming to your parish, but we count on your presence. In one ancient Rabbinic story God tells the children of Israel, “If you obey the Law, I am God. If you don’t, I am not.” The story didn’t mean that literally, but it makes an important point. God works through people and through God’s church. That work requires your presence.
3. Don’t compliment my sermons. React to them. I would rather hear you struggle with what I’ve said from the pulpit or tell me that you disagree and why, rather than say, “That was nice.”
4. Remember, I’m not here to be the religious or spiritual performer. Clergy take responsibility for fostering and nurturing the spiritual life of a congregation, but we are not there to believe, sing, pray, or profess the faith for all of you. When we do it brings out the worst in us and in you.
5. Remember that I can’t “fix” you. Like every caregiver, I wish that I could fix things for you. I can’t. Only God can heal you and even God cannot nurture healing when we resist God’s help. I will walk with you, listen to God alongside of you, and offer advice when and where it seems appropriate and welcome. But there are spiritual decisions that are all your own.
6. Please don’t pick on my family. They are in this because they are devoted to God and to me, but like all of us they are human. They make mistakes. They have their own growing pains and they can be defensive on my behalf. Clergy often describe the lives of their children as “life in a goldfish bowl.” Remember, the memories they have of the church are shaped in dramatic ways by your love for them. Just as surely, abusive behavior can alienate them.
8. Even clergy need grace. We all have bad days and we all live in a world marked by sharp differences of opinion, unmanageable stress, and the pressure to be everything to everyone. Like you, we will have moments when we are impatient, when we lose our temper, or when we react out of fear or a sense of betrayal. We try to remember to say we are sorry, but we will still need grace, forgiveness, and understanding.
9. We can’t hold together a church that you are determined to re-make to suit yourself. We work hard to discern the will of God, but no one knows the will of God in the absolute sense of the word. Along the way, we will feel honor bound to make a decision you don’t approve. Wait long enough and we will make one that others don’t like. If we offer transparent, sound reasons for making a choice, we hope you will remember that we are doing the best we can to hear God and to hear you. If you think that can be done without disagreement, you must be living alone.
10. We don’t like talking about money anymore than you do. We might even like it less. But we live in a world in which many good things can only be accomplished by raising money and spending it. We will try to avoid asking for the wrong thing. We will focus on vision, not vanity. We hope that you will remember that the money you give is for something far larger than any of us.
11. Bring your gifts to the table. Jesus didn’t call the Lone Ranger. He called twelve people who were asked to find twelve more, who – over the centuries – have called billions of others. You are God’s gift to the world in the making and there are contributions that only you can make. Nudge us and offer those gifts. Our lives will be enriched and yours will become more of what God created you to be.
12. Pray for us. These are challenging days for the church. They are also days filled with potential. You nurtured us in this vocation. Please pray for us. We will pray for you.