Appreciated October 15, 2012

Everybody’s talking about Clergy Appreciation Month this October.

Okay, well, maybe not everybody.  Mostly my preacher friends are talking about Clergy Appreciation Month this October, as most people I know would (rightly) make fun of such a Hallmark-generated occasion. 

Let’s be honest…it’s not like Clergy Appreciation Month is a major liturgical season like, say, Advent; it’s not even a semi-sacred occasion like the also Hallmark created Mother’s Day. But since Hallmark invented it (as we all are well aware), it’s real.  So I’ve been trying to figure out just what I think about this holy season.

On the one hand, it doesn’t seem fair that clergy get a whole special month to be appreciated.  I serve a congregation full of lawyers, and I can just hear them now: there’s no such thing as lawyer appreciation month!  And there are even plenty of helping professions besides clergy that don’t get their very own month of appreciation.

This is true.  But if Hallmark says it’s Clergy Appreciation Month, who am I to argue?

Many pastors work long hours—a fact I learned may not be readily apparent to some (I realized this when my nephew asked me if I get bored with nothing else to do the rest of the week but Sunday).  Many pastors work for less pay than other professionals, given their level of education.  In general, pastors are expected to be experts in many different professional areas, included but not limited to public speaking, counseling, administrative leadership, long-term planning, finances, staff supervision, conflict management, crisis intervention, even fashion consultation (in some cases), etc., etc.

All of this is also true.

But, don’t forget, most of us chose this profession.  We were not coerced into our robes.  In fact, for many of us, pastoral work is the synthesis of a deep personal calling and a daily vocation, and how many people really get to say they spend every day doing something for which they hold a deep conviction?  In short, despite the drawbacks of our profession, it could be said that clergy are lucky in a lot of ways.

So, what then shall we make of these things?  Is Clergy Appreciation Month a legitimate season of celebration?  And with what shall we celebrate our clergy?

While I think Clergy Appreciation Month is a nice Hallmark gesture, I personally would much prefer a year-round understanding of the blessings and challenges of clergy life.  Your pastors work hard, just like you do.  Sometimes their work involves unusual challenges and difficult experiences.  They will be with you and yours if tragedy strikes and you need them; they will be around to help you get married to bless your new baby; they will walk beside you as you navigate the changes and challenges of life. Their jobs are unusual and sometimes extra taxing. Appreciate their work.

And while showering them with flowers, glamorous vacations, lavish gifts, and copious bonuses is nice, most pastors I know don’t need any of these to feel appreciated.  Here’s what screams appreciation to a pastor: regular worship attendance; healthy approaches to dealing with conflict; open, transparent, and generous stewardship; a deep concern for and care of the life of the church as a whole.  We ask our pastors to invest their lives in ours…investment of our own in our shared life as the church makes a pastor’s heart go all aflutter.  Believe me.

It’s a holy honor to be a member of the clergy, for sure.  We walk into places few people ever get to go; we know people on deep and meaningful levels; we hold front row seats at the unfolding of God’s Kingdom through the work of the church in the world.  For this incredible journey, I know I for one am deeply grateful.  And for the many, many folks who call me pastor and daily show their appreciation for what I do, I am grateful even more.

So, thanks to Hallmark for the shout out.  But, appreciate your pastor?  I say the very best way to start showing it is to get up on Sunday morning and go to church!

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