This is the conversation that I wish would happen on a regular basis these days, well, since mid-March:
House of Worship Member: "Hey, how are you?"
Clergy-Person/Worship Leader: "I'm ok."
House of Worship Member: "No really, how are you...?"
Clergy-Person/Worship Leader: "Uhmmm...I'm hanging in there...I'm doing my best...life is hard."
House of Worship Member: "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Clergy-Person/Worship Leader: "Honestly, pray for me an my family...and just keep asking how I'm doing, I really appreciate that. And I wouldn't say no to (a gift card to local coffee place/dinner for my family/extra time off in the future/etc)."
This is the conversation that actually takes place:
Clergy-Person/Worship Leader (to self): I'm drowning. I can't do this. I am so inadequate at everything right now. Can I hide under my desk for a few hours? I wish someone would acknowledge just how hard this is. (Or at least, this is part of my inner monologue.)
Of course, the reality is that no one is ok right now.
As a nation, we continue to live through a pandemic and a non-response/negative response by our Federal Government. Which has made things much worse. Not only is it anxiety and anger producing, but it's harder to navigate in our personal lives and work lives. We are living through (another) time of civil unrest grounded in racial injustice and oppression and the continued sins of white supremacy. We are anxious about the growing climate change crisis that is very real and has very real consequences (including, but not limited to wild fires and major storms). We are parents to students who are navigating virtual school or the anxiety of in-person education or of older students who have been sent home from college. We are taking care of older parents who may or may not be in care facilities who we are not allowed to visit. We are carrying the financial burden and emotional toll of a spouse who has lost their job due to the Covid economic crisis. We are carrying the weight of worry about our own chronic illness and/or carrying the weight of worry for those we love who have chronic illnesses. When family members and friends die (from the Coronavirus - 231,000, to date - or because of other issues) we cannot get together to collectively grieve their loss and celebrate their lives.
Those are just a few examples of why life is so hard right now.
(And let's be completely, 100% honest, our friends and colleagues who are, who are married to, or have children who are BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ are struggling waaay more than any of us.)
Your clergy and professional worship leaders are feeling all of this stuff too...because guess what, we are people too. We are also struggling, worried, anxious, dealing with personal grief, and anger and all the other emotions that everyone is dealing with in these wtf-times...AND we are also trying to help our members who have had loved ones die, find ways to grieve; we are assisting members and others find resources to food and healthcare; many of us are doing our best to educate about white privilege and white supremacy; we are worried that worship membership and giving will decline to a point where we won't have a job anymore; we are anxious that every time we have to make a decision regarding the safety of others in our professional setting, it will set off a whirlwind of negative and angry comments; we know that when people need to vent their feelings of heartbreak and grief, many times their anger will come out on us; and we are doing our best to not lose hope and/or lose our own tempers.
In normal non-wtf-times, your professional worship leaders care for others. That's what we feel passionately called to do. And in our interactions with our people we receive affirmations in the ways we engage with members who we see regularly, who extend us care by means of a friendly chat or a silly interaction or sharing a book recommendation. We share in hugs and hand-shakes weekly as people arrive or leave worship and we hear things like "good sermon," "great job with the kids today," "Thank you for (fill in the blank)," etc.
So, we are continuing to do that thing that we do, that many of us feel deeply called to do, which is care for others, but we are receiving very few to no affirmations and relational interactions.
Also in non-wtf-times, we (hopefully) take breaks/practice sabbath rest. But in these Covid-times, taking time off (real sabbath rest) is extremely difficult to come by because we are always "pivoting" to the next step in the worship/ physically re-gathering plan.
And here is another key difference with clergy and worship professionals: we are in one of those fields where many times, we provide a service for people who voluntarily participate. Those of you who attend a house of worship like a temple, church, synagogue, and mosque, do so because you want to feel a connection to something larger than yourself, but your participation is completely voluntary. You get to make the choice to go into those spaces in normal non-wtf-times and in this new Coronavirus-ridden abnormal time. You choose. Your professional worship leadership many times, do not get the choice to go into these places, and yet, we feel deeply called to serve in these places and with our people.
However, now things are different. You still have a choice, but we are feeling that our choices and our bodily autonomy are becoming more and more limited and controlled by your need, desire, demand, to gather physically together. Your choice to physically gather results in us being forced into spaces where many of us don't feel safe. (To be fair, there are many professional worship leaders who feel fine with the choice to be in close proximity to their people and/or they feel confidant that their worshipping populations are following proper safety protocols.)
This lack of affirmation and relational engagement, lack of rest, and lack of personal choice and bodily autonomy (on top of all the other human feels that are normal in this new abnormal) are taking its toll.
I haven't asked colleagues to take a formal poll nor have I conducted any official studies of any sort, but I can share from my interactions with friends and colleagues who work in Houses of Worship and other places that provide spiritual care, both in person and on social media, we are struggling.
In a private Facebook group of church leaders, someone recently asked the question, "So, how are you doing? No, I mean how are you doing, really?" Of the 90+ responses to the question, do you know how many responded positively..?
Responses included: "struggling and grieving," "tired of feeling like a failure in every aspect of my life," "I'm really not ok," "over-functioning to hold back feelings of despair," "bracing for impact," "overwhelmed all the time," "depressed and anxious," "totally drained," "sad," "burned out," "deeply hurting," "trying to make it through this still wanting to be a pastor," and the responses just went on and on.
Because your professional worship leaders are not ok right now.
We are carrying the emotional burdens you are carrying during these stressful wtf-times...AND many of us are feeling the extreme stress of the necessity to put our very bodies in places of risk of the Coronavirus to do our jobs/live out our calls...AND we are deeply missing our relational interactions and affirmations...and we are beyond exhausted.
Because we are not ok right now.
This is not a "who has it worse" post...because as, aforementioned, no one is ok right now. Everyone is struggling and everyone's struggles are valid.
This is just a reminder, if you haven't checked on your clergy/worship leaders in a while, and even if they are still smiling and trying to maintain a positive spirit in public, they are not ok either. They are struggling deeply...so please, check on them.