With the tragic news of a local clergy person, taking their own life, it has hit me hard that we need to do better.
A young man, in his twenties, serving a rural, elderly congregation, was found by his congregants on a Sunday morning when he failed to show up for church service. It has been learned that this young man had been feeling isolated, lonely, and depressed for a period of time. He took a week and spent it with his father, returning on Saturday. He posted on the church’s social media that he would see them in church the next day. Only he never made it there. We need to do better.
After doing a little research, it has been discovered that in another area of PA, there have been seven suicide attempts by clergy (five were successful) in the past six to eight months in just one denomination! This is unacceptable! Especially when the denomination will not speak of it, or share this information with other areas. We need to do better.
Friends, we need to do better with communicating our hurts and pain. We need to do better reaching out to other church leaders in our area’s. We need to do better crossing the lines of communities, to foster relationships with others in our ministry. We need to do better supporting each other, as colleagues, even those from other religions. We need to do better creating safe places where clergy, and other church leaders, can go to speak freely of what is happening in their lives. We need to do better in not judging, but helping and supporting those that are hurting in our midst. We need to do better!
For years, I have watched as clergy segregate themselves, both for protection and pride, shutting themselves off from other colleagues around them, when they are the exact ones who would understand how we feel. Men feel it is a sign of weakness to have trouble, to feel disappointment, to feel depressed, like we have failed if these feelings creep into our existence. Women not only deal with this, but they also feel looked down upon by their male colleagues, like they are second class clergy. Because of this, we separate ourselves and try to deal with everything on our own. We need to do better!
We need to break these stereo types of solitude and strength, of the “Lone Ranger” attitude of serving in a pulpit. There are others, usually right down the street, that understand exactly how we feel, and what we are going through, but we refuse to open the communication with them out of fear of looking like we cannot handle our ministry or our church assignment. We need to do better.
I know several denominations have established groups of support, but how many of us use them, and use them effectively? Or, do we just put on the smile and say “I’m good” as we talk about what our church is doing, never really sharing what we are going through. Why? Because it will make us seem weak and unsuccessful in our ministry. We fear that word will get out that we are unable to handle the situation we are in and may get pulled from our ministry. Or even worse, be called in for counseling. How are we to minister to our congregants if we need ministering ourselves?
To answer that question I would ask, are we not human? Do we not feel, and hurt, and want (like any sitting in our churches would)? We are not special. We are not different than those sitting in our pews. Yes, we have a calling, we have God’s call on our lives, but that does not change our level of humanness. In fact, it only heightens our level of humanness. We are the ones listening to others problems, worries, fears, and doubts. Then, when we experience these same feelings, we have no one to talk to, no one to share with, no one who will understand what we are feeling or dealing with. We do not want to overburden our spouses with these feelings, so we simply ignore them and hope they go away. We need to admit that sometimes we too need help. We need to do better.
We need to purposefully create areas of support, groups that we can rely on (and can rely on us). Groups that understand the pressures and high demand of the ministry we have been called into. People who will listen to us, pray with us, laugh with us, cry with us, sit with us in silence (if needed), hug us tightly and assure us that we are not alone, and love us unconditionally. But we also need to be one of the people in those groups, with no judgement, only love, and allow ourselves to be loved by them, as we love them also. We need to do better.
Friends, it is time to step off the pedestal we have been placed on, to step down off the alter that we are expected to live on, to climb off our high horse and admit that we need each other. We cannot do this alone any longer. We expect our congregants to live in community with each other and yet we do not demonstrate this by living in community with our colleagues. It is time that we get involved in ministerial groups. It is time we get involved with inter-faith groups. It is time we get involved with others who understand what we are dealing with. It is time for us to do better, before another one of us is no longer here. We need to do better.
Pastor Michael Denelsbeck