One aspect about myself as a pastor that I cannot change is being human. Though I think about God and share teachings about God, I am not a god. In my two decades as a professional clergy person, I’ve observed that we clergy don’t give ourselves enough grace when it comes to being human, the messy, unpredictable, and needy parts of mortality.
I began serving as senior pastor of my church in the spring of 2018. We’ve be been through the pandemic together, marriages, births, baptisms, and deaths. They’ve heard my testimonies about how God shows up in our stories about mental illness and they’ve supported me in my ministries to the wider church.
As soon as I knew that I was going to have a hysterectomy, be out for a medical leave, and possibly face additional treatments for cancer, I knew I needed to tell my church. And even though none of us knew what would happen, we knew that we would love one another through it. And if that’s not grace, I don’t know what is.
What a blessing to be a clergy person who does not have to play the role of savior. What a blessing to be a pastor who is fully human. What a blessing to have a church that gets that life for pastors, like everyone else, is messy, unpredictable, and hard.
I am deeply thankful that in my time of need, my church blessed me. Together in a short amount of time we created a medical leave plan, people stepped up to provide pastoral care, to preach, to lead, and to keep the ministry going so that I could rest and recover without any worry about the church.
In preparation and throughout the medical leave, my church staff were incredible. The congregation responded with understanding, compassion, and care. They sent me get well cards and provided my family with meals three nights a week for the first three weeks of the medical leave.
On my last Sunday before the surgery, the church presented me a handmade knitted rainbow prayer shawl at the end of the worship service. Placing the shawl around my shoulders, they prayed over me, members of the congregation reaching their hands forward in a prayer of blessing, care, and healing love.
I felt their prayers fill me with God’s power and love. I felt grounded and held by a source greater that all of us in that moment. I felt at peace.
That rainbow knitted prayer shawl covered my body in the post surgery recovery room. I insisted that I take it with me to the hospital. I kept it with me every day as I recovered. The prayer shawl was a tangible reminder that I was held in the loving prayers of God’s people.
Now as I write this several months later all is well and all manner of things shall be well. The church blessed me because it included me as part of the body of Christ in need of loving care. I don’t think I would have been open to this kind of support and love from a congregation 20 years ago as a newly ordained young pastor. Time has humbled me and opened my heart to the people of God, revealing my own desire for their prayers for healing. It’s taken me some time to be vulnerable enough and strong enough in my own pastoral identity to love them and to be loved by them.
Blessed is the church who loves their pastor, especially when she faces the trials and tribulations of being embodied in the human flesh. Blessed is the church who honors the sacred time and space for deep healing to happen for their clergy.
Blessed is the church that prays for their pastor. Blessed is the church that creates space for their clergy to be fully human and fully loved.