January 16, 2009
Two years ago I was at a retreat with five other pastors, all from the same denomination, all in the same age bracket and all in rural churches. Each one of them had health issues that were restrictive and required medication or some kind of assistance. I don't know what to blame it on but the health of my peers is not good. It was a serious wake up call for my own health. It is difficult to turn down hospitality especially with seniors, but I simply say, "No." and ask for a cup of tea instead.
I'm reading Heitzenrater's biography of Wesley and John was active well into his 60's in an age when 60 was about the life expectancy. He was an early riser, severely disciplined about studying and fasting yet he writes, in his 60's, of feeling fitter than he did at 29. True, he was indeed plagued by various illnesses and ailments but his general condition was energetic, gallivanting about England on horseback.Working in youth ministry has shown me how difficult it must be to be a pastor. I can't imagine how hard it must be to know and care for so many people and still drum up a motivational and spiritual sermon each week. That must be one of the most demanding jobs there are and I'm not surprised it takes it's toll on preacher's health. But it seems even commercial jobs are more stressful than they once were and this is confirmed by the older generation. The reason evades me...
I used to work at a church. I wentthrough a period of mild depression as a result of the ministry. The leadership recognized it and used it as part of their ammunition to ultimately fire me. I had hoped for some support or understanding, or at least some dialogue.
As an Australian Anglican minister about to retire from full time ministry, I can testify to the truth of this research. I find it salutary and alarming that my own medical history over the last 15 years includes the list in the post: diabetes, depression, hypertension, gastrointestinal distress and heart problems! After open-heart surgery in 2003 I wondered about the wisdom of having returned to parish ministry in 2000, when I had been told a couple of years before by a psychologist that I would never work again - a work-related stress breakdown with depression etc - and subsequently that I was unwise to take it on. But when I got a life-threatening cancer two and a half years ago, thanks to the positive prayerful intervention of some faithful friends, I made a different decision about my life.Now I'm about to start a new life, looking and feeling better than for many years. And yes, it will be in ministry, just not full-time in a parish. Thanks be to God!
I work from home (as stay at home mom and homeschooler) for a tiny stipend for a statewide Christian group that really considers itself to be a ministry - I do too - related to homeschooling). I know the impact my resignation would have on other staff and the difficulty finding a replacement (history of time it has typically taken to find replacements and already double-duty staffing. The organization has made serious cut-backs this year, combined positions, seeks more volunteers to replace previously paid spots, so I'm not just flattering myself. My job is a large and critical one. But I suffer from significant physical problems directly related to my online time, and am not getting better despite months of treatment and it impacts my family. I know where my priorities should lie, but cannot bring myself to do it to a whole state of people, my dear friends and sisters in the organization.
I go to a church where most of the people are 65 and up. It's 2 blocks from my house. I wanted it to be close and in my community. Because I passionately care about poor, abused or neglected children, I worked in that area. I was 60 at that time and a transplant from California. I got several children from the neighborhood to come to church (I was already helping the park system with restoring the playgrounds). I asked for the church to help me give a party for the neighborhood kids at the local park they helped us restore. No one helped? The dozen or so kids that came to church had no lesson plans and the teacher would not show up! They asked me to help out more and that I'd get a helper. I was helping with the tweens already for Sunday school. With no other volunteers, I ended up trying to teach and supervise 12 to 15 children at a time with no notice before hand. I wanted only Sunday school classes but they needed me for church services now, too. The same type of scenario happened with landscaping and watering the church grounds. Because I ended up being the only one that would show up to do my part, I ended up doing what 3 people would do.. I cried often after church and was exhausted and lonely. I didn't even get to go to church with my husband and get spiritually recharged. And because I was alone I received no fellowship. I ended up having a silent heart attack and losing a great deal of my energy. I told them I had to cut back and start going to church with my husband, again. No one seemed to have any empathy. They looked at me like I was weak and wanted to get out of my commitments. I have seriously questioned their "use" of volunteers. Out of 100 or more people there seems to be maybe 11-12 people that do everything. Because we are the doers, they ask us to do more and more and more! Most of us have 4-5 jobs to do at church.The ladies all go on crying jags and the men are silent and have operations.
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