Clergy suffer from a disease called extreme busyness. If you are not busy, you are not doing your job correctly. Somehow, we have caught the disease from modern society and judged ourselves by levels of weariness, confusion, and targets missed. We think that we do a job and carefully ensure we are busy for every waking hour of our 6-day week. Yet, to miss one moment is a sin.
I remember a training session entitled “Odd Moments and How to Use Them Best” in my early years! There was no thought that sitting staring out the window might just be what we could do. Nor was it suggested that doing nothing was what clergy should be doing anyway.
“You get paid to do it.”
As one of my people said, “You get paid to do it.” We get paid not to do it. A stipend isn’t a salary. We are not employees, although governments and bureaucrats see us that way. We are provided with a stipend, so we don’t have to work, and we can concentrate on the things of God.
I just got informed it is time for my clergy assessment – how good and compliant have I been in the last year? Have I hit my KPI’s? Is the church growing? How are the finances? These are corporate questions for a corporate person to answer. Clergy are not corporate people and are not ordained to be so.
Clergy are to be porous, still, silent, available to the Spirit of God, and caring of God’s creation, including the people in our care. Just a reminder, we care for people when they need us to, not so we can feel we have spoken to, visited, or engaged with every person in the parish every month! That is narcissistic, not neighbour-focused.
Covid has challenged busyness. When the first extended lockdown occurred, I, like many others, went into a frantic we have got to do something because the congregation won’t cope if we are not writing to them every week, having a telephone care line, delivering wafers, doing Zoom morning teas, streaming online and so on. So we busily attended to what we thought was necessary, mostly just to appease our need to do something because everybody else was.
Was it all necessary? In hindsight and with a more rational mind in place, no. My congregation, on the whole, have lived through the end of WWII, the Korean conflict, Vietnam War, numerous floods, droughts, and fires, had children, lost children, run businesses, lost businesses, fought cancer, and so much more that Covid was and is just another step in the uncertainty of existence they have experienced. They were polite and accepted what we did but did they need us to do it? Probably not.
The only thing of all this that remains in lockdown is online streaming, and that is because our people are older and can’t always get here. So it is a practical long-term development. The others? Not so much.
This time around, I am doing little, almost nothing, and do not feel guilty or ineffective. Parishioners have taken responsibility for administration and future planning, negotiations with hall hirers, the organization of rosters, and more. I speak to those on the pastoral care hotlist as required, catch up with others in the everyday interaction of daily life and simply let things be.
And that’s ok.
As clergy, that should be ok.
We need to contemplate, peruse, cogitate and observe the ways of the world and the movement of the Spirit. We need to reflect on why we do things, why we think what we do, and to attend to the demons we avoid in our busyness. Are we attempting to run fast enough to leave those things we need to address, the monsters in our lives, behind, fearful that if they catch up to us, they will destroy us?
Why is there an absence of creatives, theologians, social commentators, authors, musicians amongst clergy? We are there no great innovators, thinkers, researchers amongst us? Because we somehow think we have to God’s job and save the church, our church, our people.
Covid provides us with an opportunity to reclaim what it means to be a person of God set aside from the busyness of life. It is ours to reclaim, or we will burn out, fade and disappear individually and as a community, which would be a shame.