January 31, 2011

Care and Feeding of Priests

Click here for a Spanish translation of this blog post.

In 14 years as a clergy spouse, I’ve witnessed the gamut of how a congregation cares for its priest.

Don’t get me wrong – I know that the congregation pays its priest – and this is both a job and vocation, but I’ve come to believe that one way to measure the health of a church is how it interacts and cares for its priest.

I don’t see the congregation’s wealth – or lack thereof – or Sunday attendance -- high or low -- as factors in the care and feeding of priests. We’ve served a variety of churches, from tiny country congregations to large suburban, a new start and county seat churches.

The best example of a congregation caring for its priest is one committed to giving thanks for the little things. Parishioners send regular notes to the priest – and his family. Thank you for your ministry. 

Every few months, one lady in the congregation gives the priest a $20 or $50 gift card. Take your wife out on a date. Treat your kids to an afternoon movie. We know this ministry sometimes is hardest on the family. 

At a year anniversary, the parish has a bakery cake. We appreciate you. 

On the anniversary of ordination, the parish offers special prayers. We thank God for you. 

When the priest needs a volunteer, people step up. When they see an opportunity for mission, they offer to lead it, instead of complaining or waiting for the priest to do all of the work. How can I help? 

Sure, the priest is getting paid for his work at the church, and some might argue that the monetary compensation is thanks enough. But we in the church are about relationships and community. We hope for more from our friends and family than the required transactions. We hope our bosses acknowledge our extra effort. 

It seems to me (and I concede that I’m somewhat biased) that if our churches took seriously the care and feeding of priests, then that behavior of kindness and generosity of spirit would infuse the congregation. They’d start to interact with love and mercy toward each other, with grace and hospitality to the stranger. 

Who knows how that could transform our churches -- and our priests?