or why parish ministry is wonderful and terrible
I was with you until I read this quote "Irritation: why didn’t they try harder? If they had just gotten more help, worked through the burnout or the trauma, they might not be leaving too soon, and bitterly. And they, and their church, and all the churches they might serve in the future, would be better for it" Where should they be getting the help? Judicatory staff of whom many are more concerned about keeping the congregation happy and in the denomination that providing backing (after all I can find another position - been there, done that, got that t-shirt in my first call.) Or should they find it from professionals such as therapists who are sparse everywhere but especially in many of the rural areas that most ministers serve, and who don't have insurance/money to cover it? From the leadership of the church who has been allowing bullies/hostage takers to do this for decades through multiple pastors, or who refuse to allow a consultant to come in? These don't happen in all cases, but in enough. I'm sorry that you are irritated that some didn't stick it out. I did, but I know others who didn't or couldn't. If they had tried any harder they've have been working 24/7 and still not getting results, or would be burned up, not just burned out, or there families would have been consumed. I truly hope that when your congregants are feeling overwhelmed you don't advise "just try harder". Sometimes one has to shake the dust off one's sandals and leave behind the church, and even the ministry. And even that "Roman collar" doesn't work when you are a woman who is surrounded by churches that not only don't ordain women, but believe that woman pastors and those they serve are doomed to eternal damnation. I've stayed, and am glad I did. I have had some great support from judicatory staff most times when needed, therapist/spiritual advisors as well as collegial support to stay in those moments when it seemed easier to walk away. I am able to serve in situations my younger self would never have been able to separate self from the conflict. But I would never think of telling my friends who have left that "you should have tried harder or gotten more help." If only 10% of us are making it past 20 years (which I am grateful to say I have) that indicates a systemic issue, not a lack of effort by individual ministers.
Happy, happy, happy ordination anniversary ... I can tell you that the next 18 years are pretty amazing, too!! Enjoy (somewhere a clergyperson is burning and is not consumed!
From one Rev. Molly to another--thank you for this beautiful reflection. You have been ordained a slightly lower number than years I have been alive ;). Very encouraging for this young clergywoman at the beginning of her career to hear from another clergywoman who has had years of faithful service.
May God continue to bless your ministry!
Rev. Molly Smerko
Happy Anniversary and congratulations on the milestone in ministry!
Maybe it's because I am a PK and have been witness to MANY similar situations in the churches I have grown up in or been part of, but I am totally convinced here and by some of your previous posts in something my father told me many years ago . . . that God "calls" people into ministry for reasons that we may never understand (I'd add that sometimes we may just be slow to recognize).
Clear to me is that God knew exactly who to send a call to. Best wishes!
Great read! As a female physician, this feels so incredibly similar to the beauty, frustration, brokenness, injury, and calling of my female colleagues and myself. Trade out Church and replace with Hospital and hospital administrators.
I greatly appreciate the honesty, transparency, and faith with which you share your story and thoughts!
For me, it wasn’t the meanness of people or their lack of valuing me, it was more the changing institution and drive to survive (I.e. money making and building maintenance). So little felt like ministry anymore.
"And there’s the fact that I can walk into pretty much anyplace, from a queer wedding in a West Oakland warehouse to a state prison to an ER to a mass protest, and wearing that Roman collar, can get respect (or at least: grudging curiosity and maybe some kid gloves). " Loved this, and loved meeting you at my queer daughter's wedding reception in that crazy warehouse! You were there when Bree Elle needed a community most, and I'm so grateful for that!!
Holding this all in my heart — in part because it’s too complex to hold in my head! And because I’m happy for you and grateful for you. Xo
Molly congratulates for making the journey. I am a retired Director of Christian Education, and I sure identified your experiences good and hurtful. May your next years offer you opportunities to share your gifts.
I am a frequent visitor/kinda member of First Church Berkeley. I started an Mdiv in 1989 and finished an MA in Religious Studies in 1992. I decided against ordination for a lot of the reasons you cite here in your blog. I'm so glad you stuck with it. I found a way to do my own ministry in teaching older adults. I've never regretted my decision not to pastor. But I'm certainly glad you stuck with yours.
Oh Molly. This made me laugh and cry and feel joy and gratitude and compassion (like so much of your writing does for me). I'm so grateful for your honesty and vulnerability and holy spirit stubbornness and strength and did I mention honesty? <3
Good for you Molly, Congratulations!
I have so many of the same feelings about my school colleagues and district. I have only one more year of teaching! 🥳