A response to "Secrets your pastor can't share in a sermon"

There has been a lot of discussion around the internet of the Rev. Gary Brinn's article on Secrets Your Pastor Can't Share in a Sermon lament. Here are a few "secrets" Eric Bonetti, active lay person, would like to share with clergy [used with permission from comments on The Lead]:

1) As my priest, sometimes you're just not transparent/genuine. I get that you need to maintain appropriate boundaries, and I want you to have those boundaries. But I don't expect you to be in a good mood every day, or to not have problems at home. Nor do I expect you to conceal your real views. Believe it or not, it's okay for me to know that you're a Republican. I'm not, but that's part of what I value about you: You have different views from mine. And by the way, not everything has to be sunshine and roses. Some things in life just stink, and you can say that. If we as a parish can't deal with that, it's our problem, not yours.

2) I actually do pray for you. Sometimes, when it's been a long day at work, I'm too tired to pray for myself, my family, or friends. But it is a rare day indeed when I don't pray for you.

3) Don't be afraid to call me if you think I'm having a tough time. Sometimes, I'd welcome hearing from you, but I know you're really busy, and I'm not the sort to make more work for you if I can help it. But it doesn't mean that I don't value you or your pastoral care.

4) Believe it or not, I have your back. Yes, I have heard people complain about your sermon last Sunday, the music, or something equally silly. Sometimes, I just chuckle and roll my eyes, or I change the subject. But push come to shove, I'll always take your side as long as you do your best, even if you make a serious mistake.

5) I am not sure you get social media. You spend a lot of time talking about evangelism and outreach, but your last post on Facebook was four months ago. Young people are the future of the church, so I'd love it if you just waded in.

6) When I send you info on social justice or other events in the area, please don't think I'm trying to add things to an already crowded calendar. I'm doing it as a gesture of respect and appreciation for you.

7) You might want to consider being directly involved in more parish activities. Yeah, you are busy, but keep in mind I just spent 7 hours on Saturday setting up and tearing down for an event at church--after a very stressful 70-hour work week. So I get it if you can't make it, but if you could spare 20 minutes, I'd enjoy spending time with you, and I'd be grateful for a leg up on things.

8) I understand more than you will ever know the conflicts that come up in your job. Parish life is full of twists and turns, and sometimes I don't tell you what is on my mind simply because I don't want to put you in the middle of things.

9) Your fear of change sometimes frustrates me. Yes, I get that you have to support all members of the parish, the vestry, and the diocese. But on social justice issues, sometimes I wish you smiled less and murmured, "You may have a point," and instead said, "I have a different perspective. May I share it with you?"

10) I rejoice when you take a stand on behalf of the poor, the hungry and the oppressed. Sure, some in the parish will squirm, but isn't part of your job to be a guardian of the less fortunate?

11) Sometimes, you don't get just how expensive it can be to be part of the church. I haven't had a raise in three years, and I've had a ton of medical bills, but I've managed to increase my pledge every year. Meanwhile, between various events at the church, the money I spend on Outreach programs, those three hoagies I bought but gave to folks at work, and more, I really am tapped out. So don't pester me if I tell you I can't support a particular program or activity. I really can't.

12) I worry that you don't know how much I appreciate you. Believe it or not, although I see you several times a week, it can be hard to find ways to tell you that.

13) Speaking of the hurtful comment that person made to you on the way out the door, what you didn't know is that I called that person on it. I was polite, fair, and gentle, but looks like I've really ticked that person off. Oh well.

Eric Bonetti lives in Northern Virginia. He is executive director of a small non-profit that provides affordable housing to persons in need and is a member of Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, VA. He is a frequent commenter on Episcopal Café.

Comments (3)

Spot on. Well said. Thank you.

Sergio Laurenti

Thanks Eric. As a priest myself, I wanted to comment on Brinn's original. We may "work for God" but full time parish clergy also have employment benefits that have almost disappeared from secular employment: health insurance to which most of us do not contribute and a traditional pension plan entirely funded by the church. We also have quite a lot of discretionary use of our time -- even though we do have intense Sundays, midnight emergencies and stressful Christmases. We get four weeks vacation. Before we complain too much about our treatment by parishioners, we need to give thanks for all that they give us and be aware of some stresses they have which we are spared. People who worship in the congregations we serve make many sacrifices to have ordained leadership and I try never to forget that. And of course we receive countless "intangible spiritual benefits" in every pastoral encounter and gathered around Christ's table.

Thank you, Eric. I spent many years in lay ministry (as a chaplain,spiritual director, and more), and I felt very much as you do. Once ordained, I began to hear a whole lot of complaining from my colleagues about how hard our work is, how demanding, how nobody "gets it," etc. It is true that the work of ordained parish leadershp requires some very specific (and rare) skills. It is true that we deal with people's highs and lows, and that people project stuff onto us a lot. But I am treated far more kindly and generously by my parish than I ever was by a secular employer, and I am doing the most wonderful work in the world (for me). I am grateful beyond words for the privilege of serving the church, and often the hardest moments involve my own brokenness or shortcomings more than anybody else's. I also know, having served in the secular world for many years before coming to parish ministry, that there are cranky, unpleasant, difficult people everywhere -- the church is not different in this respect. Thank you again.

Connie Clark

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