By Marshall Scott
Well, the summer is over, and with it another summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), as well as another year-long CPE residency. One set of students has left, and another is arriving, beginning, in this case, another year-long commitment. (Students with shorter commitments will come in their appropriate times.)
I know my colleagues, the Supervisors (teaching chaplains) of the program, are hopeful that the new students will do well. That means in part providing good care for patients, as well as interacting well with one another. It means being attentive to their learning opportunities, whether through clinical experiences or more academic activities. It also means the Supervisors hope they will have the expected work ethic.
Any of us who has had even the basic experience of chaplaincy provided by that one CPE unit required in seminary will know that chaplaincy isn't a 40-hour job. And any of us with experience in any other professional ministry will know the same thing. The work of ministry doesn't really settle down into five eight-hour days, whether in the parish or in clinical settings. We know that longer days, longer weeks, are just part of the profession; it goes with the territory.
So, I hear periodically from my colleagues, "What are we going to do with these students? They just disappear at 4:30." Granted, in some ways it's easier for our students than, say, for me. The students get most of their experience in a large hospital as part of a large staff. With lots of people around, it's easier to get the work done and to get home. Too, students don't have administrative responsibilities that many staff chaplains have. Some of the things that bring me in early and keep me late just aren't part of their job description. And I've always thought myself we need to keep in mind that they are students, here for their learning and growth, and not just cheap labor.
Still, I hear the question about work ethic, and I hear it from colleagues in both clinical and parochial ministries. "What are we going to do with these young clergy, these interns, these new folks?"
Long ago, in a church far, far away, when I was a seminarian, our faculty spoke to us of balance and managing stress. They spoke to us of setting appropriate limits, both on our time and our energy. They spoke of protecting our family life. They spoke of protecting our emotional and spiritual resources, with good support and a healthy spiritual life. They encouraged us not to work ourselves to burnout, much less to death. And they encouraged us to model such good emotional and spiritual balance for our parishioners.
Not that we took them all that seriously. We knew the score. We knew that it wasn't that simple. We knew, if only we'd been paying attention to our own clergy before we entered seminary, that this, like any other profession, called for long hours and long days. I remember asking my own rector what day of the week he found best to take off. He said, "Well, I don't have one regular day off. Enough happens in the parish that it's hard to take the same day each week. But, I do try to take one whole day each week." I knew then that he didn't get a day off each week, and that if I could manage only that I'd be making progress.
Still, we did hear what our faculty told us, and I think many of us did try to convey that to parishioners. Some of them even heard it, at least for themselves. On the other hand, many of us found that, whatever they might hear from us about their lives, their expectations for our lives were still the same: long hours and constant availability. Getting them to change their expectations of themselves, to allow for more grace in their own lives, was hard enough. Getting them to change their expectations of us--well, some days, some places, that seemed beyond us.
So what, then, can we do with these new residents, these new clergy? They seem to be setting appropriate limits, both on their time and their energy. They seem to be protecting family life, to be protecting emotional and spiritual resources, with good support and a healthy spiritual life. They seem committed to not working themselves to burnout, much less to death. And they seem to be modeling good emotional and spiritual balance.
Maybe we ought to learn from them. Perhaps I'm a bit more conscious of this these days. I'm getting ready to experience Episcopal CREDO, a retreat/renewal/vocational experience for Episcopal clergy offered by the clergy wellness folks at the Church Pension Group. Suddenly, the level of stress that seems normal to me seems a matter of concern to someone else. There are questions about stress in the health screening that's part of the process. I identified my stress level as "Moderate," thinking I was doing pretty well. Thinking I was doing pretty well, when asked whether I had any plans to address my stress, I said, "No." Lo and behold, when the results came back, stress was for me a risk factor!
And I hardly think I'm all that unique. I'm certain I'm not unique among clergy, but in fact I'm not unique among Christians. We have been encouraged to seek "the peace which passes all understanding." We have been called by Christ to "Come, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And yet, we seem more driven by one old adage or another like, "Jesus is coming. Look busy;" or, "Pray like it all depended on God, but work like it all depended on you." In our desire to control our environment, including to "work out our own salvation," we fall again and again into works righteousness, implicitly denying God's grace and our own limitations.
So, what will we do with these new residents, these new clergy, these new people, when they set good limits, and care for themselves, and trust God to take care of those things they can't? Perhaps we should pay attention. Perhaps, as both Paul and Benedict suggested, they have something to teach, and we have something to learn. If we can learn, even at long last, that balance we in our own time were called to, we will be better persons; and those of us in orders will be better clergy. We will model for our own people and for the world healthier lives. We will lead those we serve toward a healthier community. Most important, we will demonstrate what we have long proclaimed: that all of life is God's, and that in all of life--even in those most pedestrian activities of life--we are saved, not by our own efforts, but by God's grace.
The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.