Monday, September 17, 2007

When the minister revealed his pain ...

Ms. Kitty and Making Chutney are talking about ministry and how it affects your life, and what do you choose to share with your congregants.

This past Saturday night, The Husband and I were with the Elder Stateswoman for dinner. Somehow, conversation got around to a minister we had about a decade ago. He was going through an intensely painful time, as his brother was dying from a horrible disease. He shared that pain in a sermon. And he told us this: that the truth about "what happens after we die" was no longer a concern for him. He said that it brings him comfort to believe he will see his brother again. And if that is true, great, and if not, so what.

All of us remembered him saying that, in great detail.

Sometimes, I think sharing your pain is a gift. You allow others to feel compassion, perhaps they can even grow a bit themselves, through your experience.

This scenario isn't exactly what Ms. Kitty and Chutney were talking about. But they got me thinking about it.

7 comments:

revsean said...

This is true, LE, but it comes with some caveats. A minister's pain is useful only when it has incorporated into one's faith journey and is "processed" to some degree. In other words, it's great to share that one has been through painful experiences--and even touch that pain a bit. It's not helpful or ethical to share pain that is, if you will, still acute. Others may disagree, but this is the boundary I've used to be sure I am not using sermons as a means of getting support or "working things through."

My job is to minister and while that means sharing my humanity, I feel its important to as Emerson said, "Pass (life) through the fire of thought."

Rev. Sean

Scott Gerard Prinster said...

I agree with Sean. A classmate of mine back at Starr King once told me, "your congregation wants to know that you've bled, but they don't want to see you bleed." I didn't really understand it at the time, because I hadn't yet learned how completely NOT a peer relationship the minister-congregant connection is. I do understand that now, however, after 12 years of ministry. If my emotional sharing leads me to forget why I'm with them, it's a moment to take a deep breath and recall my covenant with them.

The ironic thing is, especially with UUs, that there will always be congregants who WANT me to bleed for them. Under the guise of concern, they'll encourage me to think of them as my special confidant whenever I need to share some emotion. The appropriate response in this case is:

1. Resist it.

2. Resist it.

3. Thank them graciously, and resist it.

And then give my therapist or a dear friend a call.

Ms. Theologian said...

Hey, LE, can you speak more about how he shared it? How it was processed? This sort of relates to my workplace sharing interest, but also I've definitely heard the advice of revsean and sgp before and would love to hear the exception that proves the rule, if that makes sense.

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Lizard Eater said...

Ms. Theo, here's how it was presented:

*in a sermon that was NOT about his brother -- he just shared that as an example

*it seemed to be a fully processed thought, e.g. "Here's what is happening, here's what I feel, here's my conclusion about topic x."

It was not maudlin and it definitely did not make one feel that a response/sympathy was either requested nor required.

Ms. Theologian said...

So it wasn't as if the minister was using the sermon to get support for the pain or "bleeding," from what you write.

PeaceBang said...

I am with you all on this one. It's important to have either some distance or to be sure we can share appropriately without venting/dumping/grieving actively in front of people, which then makes the sermon about US, our neediness, our vulnerability. It's totally inappropriate, manipulative, and is a failure of pastoral trust. What makes the kind of sharing your minister did so effective is when we can talk about something without entering INTO the pain of it in that moment, so that we're bringing them honest reflections but not using the pulpit as a therapist's couch. I've seen that done and man, it's hideous.