Discouragement over pastors and leaders who fall is weighing heavy on almost everyone I know, especially women. It is a thick, wet fog. A long and depressing bewilderment. I spoke to a good friend the other day, and part of our conversation was groaning in pain over the miserable, latest, greatest, spectacular fall from grace.
There are battlefields full of casualties when a pastor or a priest break their vows, and other people’s hearts. They can do such damage. It feels almost incomparable.
I have no answers. I know they are human beings; I’m married to one. And by now, so many years in, I could fill a church with how many of them I know, and call my friend.
These are the ones who realize “..how weighty is this Office” to which they were called, according to the Book of Common Prayer. “Remember how great is this treasure committed to your charge,” and that treasure is the Church which is the Body.
And it is the bodies that are the Church.
“If the Church, or any of her members, is hurt or hindered by your negligence, you must know both the gravity of your fault and the grievous judgement that will result.”
The weighty vows of this calling are as long as a mile, and as heavy as iron. “Will you be diligent to frame and fashion your own life according to the doctrine of Christ and to make yourself a wholesome example and pattern to the flock of Christ?” They vow ridiculously and wonderfully to be as wholesome as thick, grainy bread and a pitcher full of whole milk set out in a kitchen filled with light. Wholesome is an antique of a word; uncomfortable when it’s applied to a person and not a sandwich. Is the pastor wholesome? Let’s invite her to our party!
It is okay. It will be okay.
One thing that writers and priests have in common is that people say to those who aspire to these vocations: “If you can do anything else, do anything else instead.” So when you choose it, you choose with your eyes, hands and hearts wide open. There are so many pastors and priests, even now, who cannot possibly do anything else — even when they might want to — such is the weight and clarity of their calling.
They have vowed to do this hard and beautiful work; they have stepped into this lonely office and switched on the light.
And while it is true this can make them very strange ducks, they can always choose to not be the villain.
I have no answers. But I do know that for every spoiled apple that falls from the tree, there are thousands of ordinary, faithful men and women who are pastors and priests, nameless and fameless. They grip the branch. You will never hear of them. They sweep dusty church halls and hold the bony hands of old ladies in nursing homes as they lay dying. They hand out the wafers and say: This is the body, broken for you. They remind us we are not alone and that we live in God’s world. They show up and stay late. They get PhDs and plan potlucks in Saskatchewan and Minnesota. They write sermons and preach them, trying to share the light and not take it for themselves.
There are more of them trying to point to a kingdom of love than build an empire or crush like a bug someone placed into the circle of their care. I make very few guarantees in my life, but I do guarantee that. For every one that falls, there are one thousand more who stand.
6 thoughts on “Here’s to the good pastors”
Thank you for this lovely word, Karen. I actually emailed our pastor a few days ago to express my gratitude over how he (and the rest of our church leadership) have handled Covid, as well as other challenging events over the past two years. I had been meaning to for a while, and I regret not doing it sooner. Loved everything you wrote here.
Thank you! I bet they appreciated that so much.
Amen and amen, Karen.
There’s a terrible responsibility wrapped up in the vows you reference above. And yet, they shouldn’t all fall upon one person. When I look at the number of high- and low-profile leaders who have stumbled in the last few years (including a couple of cases now receiving attention through social media), I can only think about the number of people around them who have not been completely faithful to their roles, either.
Leaders need our support. And where they go astray, they need correction. I have been astonished over and over to read woeful stories and find that no one called leaders to account or put in place appropriate mechanisms for accountability. You’d think that Christians, of all people, would be realistic about the temptations to which we are all susceptible.
Sorry for the long ramble, but I am convinced that leaders could fulfill their roles better — and with happier hearts and consciences — if other Christians fulfilled their roles better too.
And now I have to go figure out how to live up to what I just wrote…
You are so right. Thank you for that Alan. I agree. And people need people with whom they can be completely honest, 100% transparent about their temptations and mistakes. We can all do better at this.
Thank you for this. It is so heart-wrenching but so hopeful. Your last sentence gave me chills.
Good words, once again, Karen. As a pastor’s wife for over 30 years I can attest to that burden and am in awe of all the broad shoulders that carry it with perseverance and grace. I too love that last sentence. 🙂