Clergy

Mark Masdin 8-20-2014
KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

KieferPix / Shutterstock.com

When I began a Masters of Divinity program at Wesley Theological Seminary, I was convinced that my generalized anxiety would be a wrinkle I’d iron out as I became more competent in preaching and pastoral care. What I failed to recognize was that my aptitude for ministry in itself was not the issue. I already felt called to hospital chaplaincy and had had experience working with the sick and dying as a nursing assistant. However, despite all the practical knowledge I’ve continued to gain at Wesley, anxiety has remained a debilitating problem.

When my anxiety was at its worst this past spring, I often asked myself, what business do I have pursuing ordained ministry? How can I serve others if I can’t take care of myself? Last week, regarding the suicide of Robin Williams, I heard frequently: “How can someone so funny do that?” The best answer I’ve found is that even when we are in great pain and anguish, feeling isolated from others, we don’t stop doing what we do best. Even in times of depression, and drug and alcohol abuse, Williams never ceased to do what he did best — make people laugh when they most needed to. Likewise, despite my anxiety, no matter how I attempt to close out the world, I still feel called to the ministry of chaplaincy, to bring healing to others through my presence.

Beau Underwood 7-30-2014
Overworked illustration, Honza Hruby / Shutterstock.com

Overworked illustration, Honza Hruby / Shutterstock.com

I eat, sleep, and breathe faith and politics; it is my passion and calling. From 9-5 each weekday, I direct communications and advocacy for Sojourners, moving around Washington, D.C. for various meetings, engaging with reporters and the media, and planning advocacy strategies around pressing justice issues. Then I turn off my computer and walk out the door. But instead of going home, I’m usually off to another meeting that has little to do with politics and everything to do with faith.

I’m a bi-vocational pastor, and I spend 15-20 additional hours working in a local congregation alongside several clergy colleagues, who themselves are a mix of full-time and part-time ministers. Serving in a church keeps me rooted. It provides perspective when the dysfunctions of Washington threaten to consume me. Helping people discover faith and integrate it into their lives renews and enlivens my soul.

Part of me pretends that I’d be spending this much time worshiping on Sunday morning and hanging out with my fellow young adults anyway, so I might as well be polishing my ministerial skills. But when I’m honest, I know it isn’t close to the same thing. I am way more invested in people’s lives – their joys and concerns – and the life of a particular community than I otherwise would be as “just a member of the congregation.” It is a demanding role that can be emotional, mentally and spiritually draining at times, but I love every minute of it. This is what I was made to do. Being a pastor is my identity. This calling is fundamental to who I am and how I understand myself in the world.

The number of bi-vocational ministers is increasing rapidly. Many pastors who work full-time jobs and serve in congregations part-time receive little or no pay for their church service. This trend has been described as “the future of the church” and extolled because the model is a return to “the original church” that will “enliven congregations.”

Tripp Hudgins 7-30-2014
Seminary sign, Vladislav Gurfinkel / Shutterstock.com

Seminary sign, Vladislav Gurfinkel / Shutterstock.com

Paul said, "the foolishness of the cross" not "the stable middle-class lifestyle," if you want my opinion on seminary education, the changing economy, and baptismal identity in general. We bear a responsibility to care for one another as Christians (and beyond) that we have abdicated to the persnickety "marketplace." It's time to talk about holy poverty again, I think.

I can hear my free church friends and colleagues now, "But we don't take a vow of poverty!" It's true. We don't. We remember this historical movement away from the monasteries and the cathedrals, the parish system and the state church. This is an issue of ecclesiology, no question. What I wonder, however, is if in our attempts to not fall into the traps of the past, we simply have settled on the marketplace as our model for ecclesiology. I assume we have.

My degree is a "professional degree," yet within its conceptual framework the notion that I am "professed" is easily lost. I am not called to earn, but to labor, to serve. My work is "worth" nothing. Instead, it is a response to a vocation that in many ways we all share. The wealth of the community affords me the opportunity to respond to that shared call in a particular way. I am not your employee. I am your pastor. I am poor. Any wealth I may posses comes directly from the pockets of others.

LeAnn Snow Flesher 7-28-2014
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

Seminary at Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md., Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

The contemporary fast-paced, capitalistic, U.S. free market society has lost the traditional commitments to and comprehension of ‘church.’ Our parents and grandparents understood church as a community to which they belonged. Church was a place where many aspects of social life happened. The pastor was hired by the church people to care for and nurture the community, both individually and collectively. People looked to the pastor for spiritual inspiration, ethical guidance, sound counsel, and pastoral care. The pastor was an extended member of the family and people were happy to make a personal financial contribution to pay the pastor's salary and to keep the church building in repair. Somewhere along the line our society ‘outgrew’ this version of church.

A recent article in The Atlantic titled "Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy" laments the shift away from the traditional model of financing church and clergy as well as the increased costs for training clergy. The average Master of Divinity student (the degree for pastoral training) graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans — sometimes entering into the six-digit category. According to the U.S. department of labor, the median wage for a pastor is $43,800 — not a salary that lends itself to paying off high-end loans.

Attendees of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Creative Commons image courtesy Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Religious leaders from across Africa and England came together Wednesday to discuss the role clergy should play in preventing and responding to sexual violence.

The panel was part of the three-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict co-chaired by Angelina Jolie, the special envoy for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees. Jolie made an unannounced appearance before the event, causing attendance to surge and preventing several dozen participants from entering the crowded conference room.

In a pre-recorded video message, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby started the session by describing some of the positive developments he observed firsthand on a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Historically there has been a culture of impunity,” he said. “Faith leaders are challenging that culture fiercely and saying that rape and sexual violence in war is absolutely unacceptable and will result in consequences.”

Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

A Swiss Guard salutes as Pope Francis. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

In his strongest personal remarks yet on the clergy sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis on Friday asked forgiveness “for the damage” that abusive priests have inflicted on children and pledged that the Catholic Church “will not take one step backward” in efforts to address the crisis.

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children,” Francis said.

“The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”

Amanda Greene 2-04-2014

The Rev. William J. Barber II consults with church member Shyrl Hinnant Uzzell. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

North Carolina’s weekly protests against Republican-backed legislative initiatives last year brought thousands of people to the state Capitol in Raleigh each Monday chanting, “Forward together, not one step back.”

Now the movement is ready to reprise its demonstrations, which recall the tactics of the civil rights era.

The Rev. William J. Barber II and his Moral Mondays team are making final preparations for the kickoff event, dubbed the Moral March, scheduled for Saturday. Barber hopes it will be bigger than the Selma march for voting rights in 1965 that drew 25,000 people.

Anonymous 1-09-2014
Alexander Motrenko/Shutterstock

Sexual harassment and abuse to clergy, specifically clergywomen, is often swept under the rug. Alexander Motrenko/Shutterstock

Today churches are often rocked with sexual harassment and abuse perpetrated by priests and clergy. Yet, sexual harassment and abuse to clergy, specifically clergywomen, is often swept under the rug.

A 2007 study by the United Methodist Church on sexual harassment and abuse found that nearly 75 percent of Methodist clergy women have experienced sexual harassment and abuse. The common settings for such harassment are church meetings and offices where perpetrators are mostly men and increasingly laity. “Sexual harassment destroys community. This alienating sinful behavior causes brokenness in relationships,” the study states.

Despite the prevalence of increased boundary training and education, the 2007 study found that only 34 percent of small churches and 86 percent of large churches have policies to handle such situations.

In 30 years of ministry, diaconal and ordained, I have seen that church politics, ignorance of or lack of policies and procedures, tolerance for inappropriate behavior, status of perpetrator, and money are obstacles to dealing with sexual harassment and abuse to clergy in a healthy way.

A clergy member next to a cross looking out a window. Photo courtesy Berents via Shutterstock. Via RNS.

Clergy used to rank near the top in polls asking Americans to rate the honesty and ethics of people in various professions. This year, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1977, fewer than half of those polled said clergy have “high” or “very high” moral standards.

But opinions on clergy differed markedly by party, with Republicans viewing them far more favorably than Democrats.

Overall, 47 percent of respondents to the survey gave clergy “high” or “very high” ratings, a sharp drop in confidence from the 67 percent of Americans who viewed them this way in 1985.

Tom Ehrich 8-28-2013
Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

Clergy, Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock.com

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s surprise decision to retire does more than throw the technology industry into a frenzy of speculation. It raises the problem of succession.

From major corporations to startups led by visionary leaders, from universities to churches, the departure of the top leader can stop momentum and usher in months, perhaps years, of uncertainty.

Even though dealing with succession is a primary task for a board of directors — some say it’s their preeminent task — relatively few boards take the assignment seriously. They focus instead on the easier work of jousting with the top leader and shilling for institutional investors.

What should be an orderly process of preparing for leadership transition instead becomes a lurching from one standalone regime to the next.

Many board members want the rush of being co-managers of the institution. This is especially true in churches, where boards enjoy making day-to-day decisions about operations. Since a strong central leader would get in their way, many church councils discourage strong clergy and reward compliant permission seekers.

Bob Smietana 8-21-2013
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion F

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. Photo via RNS.

The federal government wants to give Annie Laurie Gaylor a tax break for leading the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

But Gaylor, an outspoken atheist from Madison, Wisc., wants to stop them — and she’s asking a federal judge for help.

The standoff is the latest twist in a court battle over the parsonage exemption for clergy, a tax break that allows “ministers of the gospel” to claim part of their salary as a tax-free housing allowance.

Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome July 29. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

With his open and easygoing manner, Pope Francis charmed the media as much as the faithful during his successful visit to Brazil, the first international pilgrimage of his pontificate.

But it was the pope’s remarks about gay priests, made during a free-wheeling press conference on the return trip to Rome, that drew the most headlines, raising questions about whether the pontiff was signaling a change in the church’s approach to this volatile issue.

When asked by reporters about rumors of a “gay lobby” of clergy in the Vatican who were exposing the Holy See to blackmail schemes and scandal, Francis at first joked that while there’s a lot of talk about such a lobby, “I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word ‘gay.’”

Then, in a more serious vein, he added:

“I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. … If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?”

Donna Schaper 7-15-2013
Courtesy Dave Biesack / Flickr

Church members gather at Blount Street in Raleigh, North Carolina for Moral Mondays. Courtesy Dave Biesack / Flickr

Since state legislators were taken over by the Koch brothers, many progressive clergy have spent our entire discretionary accounts on travel to our state capitals.  We attend on behalf of equal marriage, the living wage, campaign finance reform, fracking, or low wage workers. While trying to be faithful, we are, also, in the great words of Joseph Sittler, “macerated” by our citizen involvements. 

But an experiment is occurring in North Carolina to de-macerate and reunite our spiritual souls with our political bodies.  Instead of episodic lobbying, on Moral Mondays, clergy visit with their representatives as chaplains.  They change the language from the pragmatics of the political to the hope of our God.  They pass through the wilderness of the secular and its optimism and arrive at the land of hope.  They talk about the downtrodden in meaningful ways with state legislators.

A woman stands alone on the stairs. Photo courtesy Kati Neudert/shutterstock.com

Most of us are too familiar with this story: an Upper Midwestern Baptist minister claims that “God made Christianity to have a masculine feel [and] ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Or a Reformed Christian pastor mocks the appointment of the first female head of the Episcopal Church, comparing her to a “fluffy baby bunny rabbit.” Or a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California says physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a reason for divorce. Or numerous young evangelical ministers brag about their hot wives in tight leather pants.

Fewer of us are familiar with this story: Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. Tamar protests her brother’s advances, citing the social code of Israel, his reputation, and her shame, to no avail. Their brother Absalom commands her to keep quiet, and their father, the great King David, turns a blind eye.

What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values.

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

African-American Church Gun Control Coalition in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON — Black clergy have launched a new coalition to fight gun violence, saying they are undeterred by the recent failure of legislation on Capitol Hill and all too aware of the problem of gun violence.

At meetings held Tuesday in Washington and Los Angeles, supporters of the African-American Church Gun Control Coalition called gun violence “both a sin and a public health crisis” and committed to a three-year action plan of advocacy, education and legislative responses.

“As people of God and as faithful members we have the obligation to stir the world’s conscience and to call on our nation’s decision makers to do what is just and right,” said the Rev. Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which convened the coalition.

Kirsten Lamb 4-10-2013
Interfaith grave markers, cofkocof, Shutterstock.com

Interfaith grave markers, cofkocof, Shutterstock.com

For many pastors of urban congregations, “stepping up” to end gun violence stems from a very personal place — as they have been forced to bury their own neighbors and church members. According to Samuel Rodriguez, gun violence – especially in urban areas – deeply affects interfaith leaders there, who are declaring violence-free zones and taking action.

Faith-based leaders in Philadelphia and Chicago have rallied to fight gun violence. Heeding God’s Call, based in Philadelphia, holds prayer vigils at the locations of gun homicides as well as organizes gun-store campaigns that ask gun store owners to sign a code of conduct.

In Chicago, All Saints Episcopal Church organized CROSSwalk, a walk through downtown Chicago, which drew a few thousand people the past two years. Violence on Chicago streets has killed more than 800 young people in the last six years.

Nuenke addressed breaking the chain of violence and pain that we see in every community. He quoted 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 and Isaiah 61 as examples of God’s compassion and its life-changing, healing power.

“What would happen if the body of Christ more fully was involved in living out Christ’s compassion in a broken world?” Nuenke asked. “Sometimes people who are hurt or experience violence end up hurting other people. The care and compassion they might receive from the Lord Jesus will impact them more in 20-30 years than anything else.”

The Editors 3-18-2013

On Good Friday 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a nonviolent march through the streets of Birmingham, Ala., to draw attention to the injustices of segregation. Arrested for marching without a permit, King composed “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to eight white ministers who criticized the timing of the civil rights demonstrations. Rebuking the clergymen for not taking a bolder stance against segregation, King declared that “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Church leaders respond, 50 years later, to King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

Photo: Marriage license, © MNStudio / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Marriage license, © MNStudio / Shutterstock.com

A federal court in Indiana has rejected atheists' requests to preside at wedding ceremonies, saying only clergy or public officials are licensed to solemnize marriages.

A lawsuit filed by the Indiana chapter of the Center for Inquiry argued that an Indiana law that requires marriages to be “solemnized” — made official by signing a marriage license — only by clergy, judges, mayors or local government clerks violates the Constitution.

But Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled on Nov. 30 that marriage has religious roots. Therefore, government regulation of marriage is an act of religious accommodation — not endorsement — and protected by the Constitution.

Daniel Burke 10-30-2012

Pollsters and politicians hunting for the rare and elusive undecided voter might want to train their sights on the pulpit.

A whopping 22 percent of Protestant pastors haven’t settled on a presidential candidate, according to a survey released earlier this month by LifeWay Research. By comparison, just 4 percent of all likely voters remain undecided, according to Gallup.

The undecided pastor trend doesn’t appear to be a one-time fluke. A similar survey conducted in October 2008 also found that 22 percent of pastors hadn’t chosen between Obama and then-GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.

The survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 26-Oct. 3 by LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, which was founded by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Pursued by politicians, mocked by "Saturday Night Live" and barely tolerated by partisans, undecided voters get a bum rap. But there are good reasons for pastors to remain ambivalent until Election Day, experts said.

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