Planning a funeral for the patriarch of a family and leader in our church while knowing that only 10 people, including two pastors could attend, was when I realized that I was not okay. I became overwhelmed with tears as I set up chairs six feet apart and realized that a family was going to have to grieve while social distancing. I thought to myself, “This pandemic has begun to take more than workspaces, restaurant experiences, lives…the pandemic is now even affecting how people grieve.”
This instance was just the beginning. As we were gathering at the funeral home to funeralize our first member who passed due to COVID, another patriarch of family and leader in our church, there was another death. The daughter-in-law of the deceased passed just prior to the service. So, a wife was funeralizing her husband and grieving a daughter-in-law. A son was funeralizing his father while dealing with the shock of his wife’s recent passing. A few weeks later, my aunt died alone in a hospital, one of my best friend’s mom died unexpectedly, and a classmate died in a car accident while away with his family on vacation. Unimaginable grief, loss and sorrow and I could not even call other colleagues because they were dealing with some of the most unimaginable circumstances as well. I was not okay, and neither were my ministry friends.
How does a minister encourage his/her people when he/she needs to be encouraged him/herself? I have often shared with people about the difficulty of the position of clergy. Clergypersons are the only public office that I know of called on in every situation of life. If there’s a fire, you call the fire department and soon after your pastor. If you retire, you want your co-workers, family and pastor to know. If there is trouble with the law, you would call an attorney and eventually your pastor. Pastors and members of clergy are integral public servants who live public lives. It is no secret that the clergy community has suffered great loss recently from scandal, suicide and flight. I believe it is because it is not acceptable for clergy to not be okay.
It is exhausting to try to be okay. I was taught as a young minister that every member of the clergy needs to carry a Bible and a newspaper. A Bible to encourage and equip and a newspaper to keep up with current events. Now I believe that every minister needs the Bible, a fervent prayer life, a group of ministry friends, a great therapist and a schedule for self-care.
Therapy and self-care are concepts that are relatively new to the clergy community and they are usually embraced as reactionary measures instead of precautionary measures. Therapy and self-care are essentials for the minister. Even while the minister seeks therapy and self-care it is okay not to be okay and even during and after therapy and self-care…it is okay not to be okay.
I’m not okay and that’s okay, because I know that I one day I will be okay!
Pastor S. Michael Greene is the teaching and leadership Pastor of Concord Church in Dallas, Texas, an ecumenical partner of the United Methodist Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.