Secrets your pastor can’t share in a sermon

The Rev. Gary Brinn writing in the Sayville-Bayport Patch

….This year the choir was excellent, as always, though the whole community has been struggling a bit. It isn’t easy to reconcile the call to be festive with the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy, much less the massacre in Newtown. I tried to strike a balance, hope and challenge in the same homily.

At the end of the evening, as the line of folks shaking my hand and wishing me a Merry Christmas wound down, one of the once-a-year crowd stepped up. Instead of wishing me a “Merry Christmas,” he informed me that it was the worst service he had ever attended.

When I attempted to explain our grief, he continued to chastise. And then he was gone. I bit my tongue and didn’t sat what I wanted to, that someone who shows up once a year and does not contribute in any way to the life of the community really doesn’t have a right to criticize how we worship.


… here is a list of some of the things your pastor may (or may not) wish she (or he) could say. No doubt she or he has their own list. If you listen well, you might just see “between the lines.”

1) … when you assume I’m an idiot who just doesn’t understand, I’m gritting my spiritual teeth and remembering Christ’s humility. I’m smiling, but only on the outside.

2) Your offering is not a tip for a good sermon, nor are you paying for services rendered. … Failure to give appropriately is a spiritual problem. I know, and I am praying for you.

3) You probably think I only work an hour a week, because that is how often you see me. But that one hour a week took hours of preparation. … [besides his other work]

4) Oh, and about Sunday morning… I have been “on,” like rock concert “on,” all morning. I’m smiling and being social, but I’m actually fried. (One list described this as being “Beyonce at a concert on” and appeared in the Dirty Sexy Ministry blog by The Rev. Laurie Brock and The Rev. Mary Koppel. I’m not very Beyonce, so I’ve changed the reference slightly…). You know that important thing you needed to tell me as you shook my hand and headed off to brunch? I forgot it, along with the important things eight other people told me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to, but you better write it down, send it in an email, or leave me a message for when I get back in the office. I think it is important because you think it is important, but I’ve already forgotten it.

5) I work for God. I know it sounds insane, but that’s it, flat out. … I didn’t accept this call to make money. I accepted it because I couldn’t say “no” to God any longer. ….And I’m on your team by choice. If I stop challenging you, you’ll know that I am either exhausted or scared. Neither is good for you or the church you love.

6) Speaking of scared, I’d like to keep my job. … trying to please God and middle management and every person sitting in the pews. I need your prayers, and possibly a good therapist…

7) I care more about the regulars. I know I’m not supposed to, but I do. You know, the one’s who show up in the pouring rain, there for every fund raiser and Bible study. When a perfect stranger shows up demanding the rites of the church and treating me like I’m an unfortunate prop in their personal movie, it’s a problem. She may be your granddaughter, but she hasn’t been inside of a church, except as a bridesmaid, in years. She may promise to raise that child as a Christian, but you and I both know she’s not going to get up on Sunday morning. I’m having serious theological qualms about this, I’m just not telling you.

8) When you insist on “the way we do things in this church,” I’m wondering when you stopped worshiping a living God and started worshiping a building and its resident bureaucracy. ….

9) Finally, I am human. Really. That nasty comment you made on your way out the door? It hurt. ….

What secrets do you know?

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  1. Dave Paisley

    Why is it that priests seem to think that their job is sop different from everyone else’s?

    Apart from the “I work for God” ploy, which is true to a degree, but often used as a get out of jail free card when they can’t make a point by other means.

    As if the rest of just work for money…

  2. Ann Fontaine

    Yes Dave — why I liked Susan Snook’s blog – acknowledging that those who come to the church she serves are also exhausted at this time of year and we are all in this together.

  3. Matthew Buterbaugh+

    While some of these may be true for me, I certainly don’t consider them secrets. I’m not a jerk about it, but I feel like I’m pretty open about these things to my congregation. I do let some things roll off my back, but why would anyone be upset that I get tired after a day of services, or that I think tithing is a spiritual practice?

    I think number 6 is pretty telling. If you feel like you have to keep your mouth shut to preserve your job, there is probably an unhealthy relationship in place. Perhaps a bit of openness may be healing.

  4. E B

    I think I’ll write more about this on my blog, but as laity, here are a few secrets I’d like to share with clergy:

    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 than me. 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

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