Have you ever been told that you are so lucky you only work one day a week? I am certain that many clergy have heard this statement at one time or another. Sometimes offered in jest but with an underlying sense that there is some truth and other times meant quite seriously. The work of the clergy is what I would compare to an iceberg. Ninety per cent of what we do is below the surface and the ten per cent (also known as Sunday morning worship) is what is most visible. I am sure that you are wondering where is she going with this?
I have had a few interesting conversations lately and it strikes me that since the pandemic began just over two years ago the above sentiment has become more prevalent amongst a very few people. Only a very few but just enough to add to the increased uncertainty and anxiety that many pastors live and deal with on a daily basis and which most keep well hidden. There is the sentiment that clergy have not worked as hard in the last two years, have had an easy time of it, have not been with parishioners or if you were newly matched with a parish have not gotten to know parishioners. All assumptions! Yes, I speak of what I know, sadly. That said then the sentiment spreads that since we have had two easy years then why do we need holidays for renewal and refreshment or family obligations or whatever reason? An unhealthy response for those not in sync with either their parish, parish leadership or their clergy.
Let's add another piece to the mix where an article that I read said that 38 % of pastors are not alright and have or are leaving the ministry.  That is not an insignificant number. The stress of the pandemic, the many deaths that resulted, the overwhelming grief and the inability to minister in the traditional or time-honoured way added to workloads that were already nearing 60 hours a week has caused many to re-think this vocation. The responsibilities of the job have increased, and the rewards have decreased. The small, spontaneous and positive interactions with church members that previously kept clergy going disappeared from the work over the past two years. And if you add to that a lack of understanding from a member(s) of the congregation then you have a mixture for disaster.
Clergy have been expected to do more with fewer resources and people and yet to keep the same momentum going.  And if it was only the ten per cent that is visible that we actually do then perhaps and only perhaps the criticism might have some basis. But there is this ninety per cent that you can not see that is beneath the surface, likely highly confidential and certainly of a pastoral nature. There is the necessary preparation for the liturgy and the sermon since the majority of us can not pull them out of thin air. There are the calls for emergency care in the middle of the night that are responded to in a timely manner. These are but a few of the things that happen beneath the surface because they affect those that we respond to and are not readily visible to the larger numbers that gather on a Sunday morning.
So many misconceptions abound about what it is clergy do on a daily basis. Since the nature of the position is largely autonomous let me assure you dear readers that few have time to sit around playing games or twiddling their thumbs. If there is nothing else there are telephone calls to check in on members to see how they are doing (sarcasm at work here--to my knowledge that instrument did not break in the last two years!) So perhaps those who waver and wonder and threaten financial withdrawal should consider looking beneath the surface to see what really lies underneath before piling additional stress on already overburdened clergy. Perhaps instead of making assumptions, it would be more beneficial to do a check-in to see if your pastor is okay, to ask questions and offer support and understanding instead of adding to the ever-increasing concerns. A priesthood of all believers is also a priesthood of partners in service to God.
Icebergs and pastors, are an unlikely analogy and yet in these times more appropriate than ever as we go forward and slowly emerge from our bubbles and cautiously enter back into relationships, community and caring for one another. The pastor will be there to pick up as many pieces as possible, to listen and be present for your cares and concerns but conversely who will help the pastor manage the same? What lies beneath, behoves all of us to take a closer look.