...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Friday, July 1, 2011

Let's be honest about "clergy health"

Let's take a look at a recent stab at this topic, courtesy of the Board of Pensions of the UMC. I know these recommendations are the fruit of hard work, long hours, prayer, reflection, and concern. I appreciate the committee's effort and energy. Their work should start a conversation at least and hopefully bring about some positive change. The task force’s recommendations are set forth below, with my response in the last three paragraphs of this post.
  • More help for those entering licensed or ordained ministry: Stronger screening of candidates for ministry, standardization and strengthening of the residency program during the provisional period, and providing a provision for a career‐long mentor, apart from the district superintendent.
  • Guidelines for healthy work/life balance: Champion and monitor clergy health and wellness, promoting annual (regional) conference resources, and providing support to clergy, spouses and families.
  • Changes to itinerancy and appointment making: Use longer-tenure appointments to mitigate the stress on clergy and, by extension, stress on the connection; encourage use of interim appointments.
  • A redefinition of district superintendent’s role: Prioritize the district superintendent’s supervisory role as someone who proactively coaches, provides feedback and embodies and intentionally monitors clergy wellness.
  • Help for those exiting ordained ministry: Providing career counseling, temporary health coverage and assistance with final moving expenses for clergy who no longer feel God’s call to ordained ministry to make “a grace-filled exit.
Be more honest about money- we can understand why the Board of Pensions did this study as they are driven by economic stewardship. "Helping" clergy to exit early would "help" to lower the church's bottom-line in pension payments. What about the wisdom of continuing a life-time salary for future members of the episcopacy? Can we afford it or is that the elephant in the room we just agree to ignore?

How about more transparency and less manipulation in making appointments?
Lack of honesty multiplies stress. Just be honest that appointments are a combination of many factors. We need to stop confusing the descriptive (how things really are) with the normative (the way we want them to be).

Focus on what the D.S. can do in practical, on the ground, help.
To be coaches, their gifts have to fit and the job re-structured to match. How about offering regular sabbath/brake days sponsored by Districts /the D.S. Being on call 24/7 casts the unhealthy structure of the pastoral life like nothing else. Empower the D.S. (equipped with a team of retired pastors?) to offer real help by covering one or two days every 6 weeks.

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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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