Today I was honoured to chair the Clericus Meeting for the Deanery if London. Ours is a large Deanery, with a total of 47 clergy on the roster. Looking around the table today at the 30+ clergy who came to our meeting, I was deeply aware of the wealth of experience, love, compassion, and pastoral care that lived around that table.
After our meeting today, I reflected on how fortunate we are to have each other to journey with in ministry. We do not always realize this. As clergy, we can often feel that we must know all the answers, find all the solutions, fix all the problems, build the church, and make sure that everybody is as happy as they can be at all times. When things go really well, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we have played one small part of allowing God’s love and God’s purpose to unfold. When things click, and plans go well, I personally am always excited to see what God can do, and feel very good about being a small part of it. That always feels really good! But when things don’t always go as we would like them to, it does not feel very good. Any of us who have ministered for any amount of time know the moments I am thinking of; when attendance dwindles, when parishioners are displeased, when the latest parish program doesn’t take off the way we would like it too, when the budget suffers, when we’ve not been as present to someone as we feel we could have been, (insert the next twenty items here – this list can vary in length). It is at those times that I count myself lucky to be able to look around the table at which I sat today, and give thanks to God for my colleagues.
We recently went through a restructuring here in the city of London, Ontario. This deanery is new, and we are still getting to know one another. I have the sense that what we have before us is a tremendous opportunity and God has yet to show us how very much we may accomplish with the leading of the Spirit. I am also keenly aware that we have a room full of experiences. We have a table surrounded by joy and weeping, celebration and pain, excitement and regret. We are leaders in the church. We can celebrate one another’s high’s and we can enter into another’s lows. The diversity of theology, pastoral and life experience, and ecclesiology around our table will allow us to plumb the depths of how God is present in the midst of even our lowest moments. After all, as clergy, we are not immune to the poverty of pain.
I like the way Henri Nouwen puts it:
As leaders we can enter into one another’s poverty. There is a tendency to think about poverty, suffering, and pain as realities that happen primarily or even exclusively at the bottom of our Church. We seldom think of our leaders as poor. Still, there is great poverty, deep loneliness, painful isolation, real depression, and much emotional suffering at the top of our Church.
We need the courage to acknowledge the suffering of the leaders of our Church – its ministers, priests, bishops, and popes – and include them in this fellowship of the weak. When we are not distracted by the power, wealth, and success of those who offer leadership, we will soon discover their powerlessness, poverty, and failures and feel free to reach out to them with the same compassion we want to give to those at the bottom. In God’s eyes there is no distance between bottom and top. There shouldn’t be in our eyes either.
In ministry, we have many, many, more days in celebration of the abundance of God’s grace and the the joy in leading in God’s church than we do days of poverty and pain. I give thanks for the gift of this new Deanery of London and the depth of experience of the clergy within it. Chances are that whatever joy or whatever sorrow I feel this week, I can rest assured that around our Clericus table, there is a colleague who has been there before. It’s a great place to celebrate one another’s triumphs and bear each other up in the midst of our poverty…it’s a place of advice, compassion, support, and guidance. Most of all …. It is a place of grace.