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…