Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Shortage of Clergy?

I sometimes wonder about the way organized religions treat their clergy. If this were just a situation with me, I would assume that it is just my bad luck, but I have heard of others having similar problems.

My case is frustrating. I left a job as a psychologist for the state of Illinois to go to seminary.

After graduation, I got called to a little church “up north.” When I say little, I mean maybe 40 people on Sunday. And quite often, being in my mid-30’s, I would be the youngest person in the sanctuary.

I was also dealing with a congregation that had become known as “Clergy Killers.” Of the four previous pastors, three left the ministry after being at this congregation. None of them lasted longer than four years. And one left without even leaving a forwarding address.

Well, surprise of surprise! I had problems with this congregation. I was asked why I didn’t “treat” the congregation because I had the psychology background. I said there is a difference between being a pastor and being a therapist. But the synod kept its distance from me and any problems that I would direct their way, seemed to get “lost.”

Finally, I got to the point where I was suicidal and was looking for ways to change my name and just leave. When I finally told the congregation that I would be leaving, only then did the synod pay any attention. And the attention I got was being told that I was just not trying hard enough. And that I was an example of why it is so hard to place first-call people.

It was decided I would leave the congregation on Oct. 28, (2 years, 2 months, and 22 days after arriving). I left with the desire to drive into bridge abutments. I left without any job. I left without any insurance. I left with a prescription for the maximum dosage of Zoloft. And I left being told that the synod could not do anything about helping me to pay for the prescription because they were not a “charity organization.”

Almost a year later, I received another call. This was the call I have just left. For the most part, it was great. (There is never a perfect call.) The call was good enough to allow me to deal with the skeletons in my closet and deal with my sexuality.

That sexuality thing created a whole new problem in and of itself. Now the synod was backing away, not because I was leaving but because I was a “messy” problem. I was told that “we would all be embarrassed about [my] leaving in a few years. But as for now, there is nothing we can do.” Nothing we can do? If it is a law that will be embarrassing, LET’S FIGHT IT! Let’s be the people who said, “We think this is wrong and we are going to do something about it.”

So now, I am working temp, waiting for a call from the ECUSA. Now, denominations are always complaining how they are in need of clergy, but here one sits, answering phones for a helpdesk.

A similar situation is occurring with Nick. He is trying to find a pulpit within his denomination but seems to find indifference and apathy. He will contact people and never seems to hear back from them. Nick has over 20 years of experience in the congregation but they cannot find a pulpit for him. I don’t get it.

We hear the cry that there is not enough clergy. But here sit clergy, willing to work, with no pulpits in sight. I am confused as to what is happening.


Ur-spo said...

i am sorry.
people are rather hypocritical with pastors; they want ideal people without blemish - as do the seminaries. Where do they find such saints? no where.
In our parish there is one overworked priest for several thousand people. One of my own patients hoped to go into the priesthood -but got disqualified as he has ADD?!
It sucks.

Lemuel said...

Oh man, BentonQ! Have you pushed my buttons! (I am with you, btw!)

You were, as we say in my tradition and as I was at one time, a "warm body in the pulpit". That was all the "ecclesiastical corporate-types" wanted and you (and I) "bothered" them for various reasons. You were supposed to "go quiet into that good night" and you did not. Neither did I.

In my tradition the powers-that-be are also crying the blues about lack of clergy and about declining membership. I've got a clue for them: it's about being shepherds and the shepherds tending the sheep need also to be shepherded, cared for, nurtured. It's just not happening,

My being is centered in my faith and it is strong, but I have learned to have little time for ecclesiastical institions.

Take heart in this, you did not fail the synod, the synod failed you.