Ministerial Anxiety

So, I already bought the plane ticket that will take me down to Texas for this. (The clergy version.) Yup, I’m crazy enough to go to San Antonio in AUGUST for a retreat with a bunch of people I’ve never met and who are from all sorts of religious traditions and backgrounds.  Worse, I’m going to the ministers’ retreat, so I’ll be with ministers–(yeah, well duh.) What if they are all convinced that their way is the only way?  What if they decide what I really need is a good exorcism, being a Unitarian Universalist and all?  What if I’m the only unbeliever there? (Do I even mention being queer? )

You can feel my anxiety already, hunh?  Yup. Me too.

I read all about the first retreat. (Followed all the links too.) And now I’m even more nervous.  Reading all about how people opened right up and had wonderful conversations and played music and made art together….Well…

My experience of ministers is that we have a really hard time doing all those things.  First, there is the little  voice of caution that starts its chant: “Don’t share too much...” It takes a long time to let go of the reflexive worry that I’m going to say something that diminishes my ability to minister.  Or that something I say will be collected by one of the ubiquitous naysayers and will show up in a congregational meeting or evaluation.  Or that I’m supposed to be the strong one. The one who doesn’t cry at funerals (or weddings) because its my job to keep things going.  The one who preaches five days after a disaster and has something to say that helps people get through the hard night.  The one whose faith is always being measured and judged.

There’s another thing, at least in my tradition: the sad reality of retreats turning into times to complain about how hard ministry is, whose calendar is most overbooked, whose congregation is most stingy, whose building is falling apart fastest, who has heard the rudest comment after a sermon, etc… (Oh heck, I’m not supposed to let you all know that we do this…oops…bag open, cat long gone.)  It’s not that we don’t like you or that we are small-hearted or mean-spirited.  It’s that we’re tired.  Exhausted. Rung out. Drained.  When we get together, we have permission to let it out.

It’s not that we don’t love what we do.  We do. We really love ministry.  You can tell because we put so much of ourselves into it.  We’ve tried to do everything that was asked of us and more.  We’ve given in to the pressure to try to be everything to everyone.  When ministers get together we give into the temptation to compare who has it worst–because that person must be really devoted, right?  Or maybe we’re just telling ourselves again and again, “See, it could be worse…” That makes us feel better–for a while, anyway.

And then there is the singing and the artwork.  True, there are a few ministers who can really sing.  And a few, I bet who paint or sculpt or make crazy things out of metal and dreams.  Or knit. I’ve known a few ministers who are excellent knitters.  But for some reason, we don’t admit to our creative tendencies easily.  Okay, maybe Real Live Preacher admits he’s a writer, but that’s all tangled up with ministry too, isn’t it?  When it comes to creativity for creativity’s sake–the “throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-let-the-Muse-or-Eros-have-her-way-with-me” kind of creativity, we can be kind of stuck.  We sing like the congregation is listening.  We draw properly. We paint appropriately religious paintings.  We are extremely self-conscious.

Okay, maybe I’m projecting.  Maybe all the other ministers will be ready to throw caution to the wind, let all their doubts hang out, and just be real right away.  Maybe I’m the only one with these…erm…issues. Oh crap, that scares me too.  Maybe I’m, like, a spiritual loser or something.  Maybe I’ll be all uptight and freaked out and they’ll all hate me. Maybe it’ll be just like junior high and I’ll end up crying all alone in my cell, knowing not even the best of Jesus’ people could manage to love me.

Not that I’m insecure or anything. After all, I’m a man of faith, a spiritual leader, a minister…


9 thoughts on “Ministerial Anxiety

  1. be brave!
    no one can attack a relentlessly open and loving point of view to harshly

    and also, do you have podcasts available of your sermons! get them! I’d love to hear one.

  2. Rev Sean, I can understand your anxiety – and I’m sure you aren’t the only one. I know there were some who were anxious going into this past weekend as well. But let me just say, I’m glad you’re going. I think it will be a safe place. I really do. I know our experiences will be different, but I think that will remain the same – it will be safe, open, and welcoming to all.

  3. Thanks for your honesty on this. I’d rather spend 15 minutes a month alone with every member of my clergy group than deal with the monthly five hour meetings. Love the people. Hate the group dynamic. Weird.

    Thanks for your postings a few months ago. I’m up at the VA legislature in a week. Thinking of you.

  4. I find it so reassuring to hear you. I spent my CPE group work asking, “..and I would let down my defenses around y’all, why?. . .” Vulnerability is still my biggest challenge. I can barely see thru to the reason for opening up. Best wishes on the retreat, perhaps you will find just what you need- whether that is comfortable or not.

  5. We have a funny way of scaring people off who can’t relax and be real. You’re perfect for this retreat, Sean. You’ll fit right in. We’re fairly determined that the world needs a few places where people can gather and be authentic. We’re trying to be one of those places.

    It would be interesting to hear how Sumana, a “Hindu leaning” person felt at the first retreat. She seemed right at home to me.

    I truly am looking forward to meeting you.

  6. Hey RLP,
    Thanks for stopping by. Just so we’re both clear–this post wasn’t at all about the retreat. It was about me. The me with the scared jr. high kid inside who is terrified of new social situations and fears being the “spiritual loser” of the bunch.

    I fully expect Covenant (and the other ministers, for the most part) to be kind, welcoming, fun, and pretty much great in every way.


  7. You dont’ have to be crafty, but you can be. You don’t have to share a lot, but you can. You should come on and see. Anyone who worries this much about the whole process is pretty much just like the rest of us.

  8. hey rev/sean,

    i’m looking forward to hanging with you at the RLP retreat — i traipsed across your blog on technorati tonight. oh, i see RLP and cynthia beat me here. anyway: we’re a welcoming bunch; so bring yourself and be yourself and all of us other spiritual losers will try and do the same and we’ll see what happens.

    anyway. that’s all.

    peace & stuff.


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