In general, there are lots of incredibly kind, loving and supportive people who go to church. In a survey I did recently, clergy found that they receive more support from the parish than the diocese or the senior staff, the results are below, of course it isn’t true for everyone, but for most clergy.
I wonder how open we are to receiving the ministry of support from our parishioners. Of course, there are difficulties, I can’t remember where I read it – possibly in The Cracked Pot – about a vicar who was good friends with a member of the church and then one day at a study group expressed some doubts about an aspect of faith. He was told by his friend that as a vicar he was not meant to have any doubts and if he did have any that he should keep them to himself. After that the friend no longer spoke to him. The expectations of clergy being not human somehow can get in the way of clergy feeling they are allowed to be vulnerable. I think that can be true at times for me… I watched this video and it really touched me:
In the video Emma says the following things:
For all the suffering I would choose the illness because my illness taught me how to receive ministry from other people. It was just a gift.
There is a culture of hiding – folk don’t want to be labelled, “Oh so-and-so’s lovely, but they’re *not coping*.”
The church in which we work is not the church for which we were trained or that we thought we were going into.
Pressures we have as clergy are different to what we thought it was all about and it is so easy to get hemmed in by the fear of the day, of someone turning around to us and saying “Where were you when my Granny was dying, you never visited her.” And you can start functioning out of that fear of shame and guilt.
Watching the video I was struck by how easy it is, after we have been hurt a parishioner’s comments, to stop being vulnerable, stop being in a place to receive the love and support of parishioners and to start functioning out of the fear of shame and guilt.