Clergy Clusters offer a Social Support Network

Last week I shared some days at a continuing education event in California with my best friend.  During the time we were in LA my friend turned 60 years old.  I took him out to dinner and I hope it was a good celebration of this important milestone in his life but the event got me to thinking about our journey together.

We met in seminary, graduated together, and were appointed in our first appointments.  The appointments happened to be churches that had been a two-point charge and had reached the point where each was ready to have their own full time pastors (something that sadly almost never happens today).  I recall well those early days of ministry.  All the insecurities, the questions about my ability to actually DO what I had trained for and I believed God had called me to do.  It was wonderful to have my friend there to share the struggles and joys.  To encounter the same surprises and challenges that come with those first months and years as a pastor.  And that connection and gift has continued as we now stand on the other end of this spectrum.

I have always marveled at his gifts, his humble, gracious love for the people God has given him to serve in every place where he has been sent.  For all these years he has continued to be a confidant, a colleague, and an inspiration to me.  Aside from my wife, my closest friend and the one I can tell anything, Don has been the one with whom I have walked this journey of ministry.

Now the reason I bring this up is because at the event in California there was conversation and presentation about the issues of loneliness and individualism among clergy.  And it reminded me again of the fact that some of us don’t have people like Don in our lives.  And because we don’t we try to do this, sometimes incredibly difficult and challenging work, alone.  We don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable with a friend and colleague and because we don’t we experience an even deeper loneliness than the already significant loneliness that is a part of this life we lead.

That both saddens and worries me from the perspective of my role as a Superintendent.  We need one another.  We need people who know US.  We need people who hear that almost imperceptible change in the timbre of our voice that causes them to ask, “What’s wrong?  What’s going on?”  Because they understand us that well.

Now it’s not just clergy who need this of course.  We all do.  But there is a uniqueness in the calling we follow as clergy that makes it particularly important.  One of the reasons I began the cluster groups that we started last year for all our clergy was so that this might be a place where some of this needed care might occur and perhaps for some, this kind of friendship might develop.  By the way have you met with your group lately?  Do you need to rethink your decision not to make this a priority?

The fact is while our ultimate source and strength for ministry comes from God, we are created to need each other.  I am grateful for my friend.  I am thankful for the almost 40 years we have shared together in walking this road of ministry.  Who do you have who shares the journey with you?