Thanks to everyone who responded, either in the comments or by email, to my post a few weeks ago about how our pastoral staff dropped the ball when a church member was sick and eventually died. I’m grateful for your support, your suggestions, your prayers, and your wisdom. (ed note: that post has been removed after I ended psuedonymous-blogging)
I feel like I’ve been linking a lot of late to Jan Edmiston’s blog A Church for Starving Artists. My last post in part was inspired by her work in Washington DC. It turns out that she had a good reflection about the need of the pastor and of a church for the Pastor to be the principle caregiver for a congregation. This came to her on her day off, which for many clergy isn’t always a day off. This is the second such reflection of hers in as many days:
Here are two secondary issues:
1) the pastor’s need to be The #1 Pastoral Caregiver.
2) the congregation’s need for The Pastor to be The #1 Caregiver.
In my tradition, elders are considered the spiritual leaders of the congregation. And yet, the pastor is still uniquely considered God’s Representative in ERs, maternity wards, and ICUs. I’ve been trying to train our elders to see themselves as God’s Representatives as well, and to know what to do when they get there. But we are up against a wall of beloved 20th c. Pastoral Tradition which decrees that only the ordained clergyman (and I mean “man”) held a parishioner’s hand at bedside. Only the trained pastor prayed and asked spiritually directive
Everybody else made casseroles.
Nothing against casseroles, but this has to change. And s-l-o-w-l-y it is changing. Our elders no longer run church committees, generally speaking. They are forbidden from running stewardship campaigns, coordinating educational programing, and organizing mission events. They are not supposed to hold any other office while they are actively holding the office of elder.
Instead, they are required to be spiritual leaders, focussing on a small group of members/households for whom they are responsible spiritually along with the congregation’s only pastor (me). They are supposed to know these parishioners, pray with and for them, and guide them. Great plan . . .
But here’s the catch:
- ICUs, ERs, and maternity wards don’t care what the PCUSA constitution says and don’t
recognize that elders serve spiritual leadership roles and should be allowed to pray at the bedsides of their parishioners. (And elders don’t get free parking in most hospitals.)
- Elders themselves don’t recognize that they not only belong at those bedsides; they are called there to offer spiritual care
- Congregational members do not recognize that the elder at their bedside is representing God as surely as the pastor is
The hope is that, if I am “off” for the day, there is an elder — or a deacon — who will attend to any pastoral emergencies that arise.
The reality is that, if I am “off” for the day, and don’t attend to the pastoral emergency myself, I’ll hear about it for days to come. (Jan was too busy at the gym to see my mother the day of her surgery.) You pastors know what I’m talking about.
When there is more than one pastor on staff, there is never a problem with this because there is always at least one other available pastor. But frankly, this is the beauty of the smaller church: unless you want a toasted pastor, the lay leadership is forced to accept their role as spiritual caregivers.
Yes, there are Stephens ministers, parish nurses, etc. But I’d like to hear what elders (or whatever your tradition calls them) do to serve as spiritual leaders in their congregations.
- Are you still running committees?
- Do you feel equipped to serve as spiritual leaders, praying with & for your people?
- Do you think this is all a vast conspiracy to lessen clergy workloads?
I’d love to hear your comments while I head into Washington for the rest of the day on my day off . . .
A few of you who commented spoke about how we envision the relationship of clergy and the laity has to change. This post is helpful in that regard, I think. Its commended for your reflection.