Thinking Aloud

For those of you that asked about Mr. Clinton, I will only tell you that my hometown is where he currently lives. It's too hard to try to explain this event with imitating his inquiry toward me. It's an entertaining story -- but not so good that you are really missing a good story. Nonetheless, I arrived at my college reunion to discover that this is what everyone knew about me (not that I was almost ordained). I found this ironic somehow.

This story is obviously far from my mind right now. There are other things that I'm worried about -- like the funeral I in a few hours and the conversation I had with my brother yesterday. He has been released and I'm still uncertain what to do and think about these events. I suppose one can never really know. I tried to disctract myself with literature this afternoon. After all, ppb had suggested bibliotherapy. I started reading Mary Gordon's new book Circling My Mother recently. So I induldged in my favorite luxury -- sipping coffee while people watching in a local coffee shop and reading a good book. I people watch perhaps more than I read. I was distracted by the very cute young man on his laptop who plopped himself right in front of me. And yet, I absorbed one line from my book:

I am miserable, but I learn something very important, that it will be one of the important jobs of my life to honor mourning. To acknowledge that the work of mourning is an honorable job, to insist that its wages be paid, that it be given its due.

The author is referring to her father's death when she was 12 years old -- but this line is true for me. It is my life work. Perhaps it is even my call. It is also my brother's work. Today he told me that he is finally ready to make this his work. He knows now that he must confront the grief of my mother's death when he was only 5 years old. It's painful and it's hard -- but this is the work that we must do.

I'm beginning to really posit the idea that this might be my call. I will preach a sermon about this just after Thanksgiving. This is actually why I picked up this book originally. The topic of grief has been the focus of most of my theological studies. It is what I'm working hardest to figure out. And now, I'm wondering how I share this with those that I serve. I have not told anyone in the church that this is happening in my life. I don't want to bleed all over them. I don't want them to feel that they need to take care of me. And yet, I feel that there is something that moves me toward offering my experience as a witness to these tragic things that we don't understand. In an ideal world, I could model how one handles these tragedies.

I won't tell the whole congregation -- not in my sermon, not in the prayers, not in any moment in worship. That doesn't feel right -- but there does seem to be an opportunity to share with a few. The natural assumption would be the Pastor Parish Relations people. This is an unsafe committee to me. They were established before I arrived and serve both the SP and me. They are in the midst of creating a review process for us -- and I just don't trust them. A colleague suggested that perhaps I form my own support group in the life of the church. Not a separate PPR, but a group of people that I can process with. A group that I can talk about my grief and my pain. A group that I handpick to be church for me. Will this alienate the SP? Is it wise to even ask the question to him that I am thinking about this? Would this create too much friction? Or would this be the first step toward actually caring for myself as a pastor (and having the church care for me)?


Songbird said...

Not sure, but thinking about it. The problem is in the system; what sort of workaround would accomplish what you, and all of us in ministry, need?

more cows than people said...

i'm wondering if you've read the book "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. I was listening to that book right before some very tragic deaths in my congregation and it gave me some powerful insight into grief. It is quite raw and may or may not be something helpful to you, but... it came to mind as I was reading this post.

i have never been able to share with my personnel committee (such as it is) the hardest stuff I'm going through. i haven't formed another group, but I have shared somewhat organically in safe circles as the opportunity has presented itself. In the session (the governing board), in the women's circle, even loosely in youth group, with morning Bible Study, with several caring individuals- never leaning on the church groups too heavily, but letting them in and inviting their prayerful support.

This has worked out pretty well for me. I've had to navigate the insensitive things that sometimes get said, but overall it has had the effect of increasing sensitivity on the part of the congregation as a whole. And... I think, maybe it lets people know that I am acquainted with suffering.

Blessings as you discern how best to be open within the congregation about the work you're doing.

and blessings on your brother as he reintegrates and does the hard, hard work ahead.

Teresa said...

i read magical thinking this weekend. thought it would destroy me but it didn't at all. i feel similarly about my call around grief and witnessing to it and mourning...damn i wish i could have more time with you. interesting questions you raise about a support group in the church. am not so sure about it...i just suck at negotiating the boundaries around this stuff.

Audrey said...

pastor - great entry. i will be using that quotation. i find that to minister in my congregation is to understand grieving. it is one of the hardest things for folks to accept and yet we are called to.

as for the pastor group - the pastor i work for's best friend committed suicide in february and he mentioned it in his sermon the first sunday after his death. he continues to mention it often in sermons, meetings, and the like. i do not know if he is trying to de-stigmatize the disease of depression and the sad reality of suicides or if he just needs the church to understnad from where he comes. either way, that is how he is grieving - without a group, but just being open with all about what is happening.

Pastor Peters said...

i have read joan didion's book. i read it when it came out two years ago. it was a big part of my thesis in seminary. it names truth -- which is why we need writers. they name things we already know to be true.