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Are isolated clergy less effective?

Are isolated clergy less effective?

A Harris poll of CEOs reveals what many have said for a long time – that it’s lonely at the top – but adds that isolation hinders performance.

The intensity of the CEO’s job, coupled with the scarcity of peers to confide in, creates potentially dangerous feelings of isolation among chief executives. Fifty percent of all CEOs report experiencing loneliness in the role, and of this group, 61% believe that the isolation hinders their performance. First-time CEOs are particularly susceptible to this isolation, with nearly 70% of those who experience loneliness saying it negatively ?of CEOs report experiencing loneliness in the role affects their ability to do their jobs. Nearly half of all CEOs estimate that most other leaders experience similar feelings of loneliness.

Perhaps it’s a poor parallel, but the parish priest comes to mind. Often a kind of CEO (though of course all comparisons break down), a member of the clergy can spend time with people as befits his/her job description but still come up feeling lonely, or at least isolated. We’ve talked about this some on the Café.

Harvard Business Review blogger Thomas Saporito adds:

Anyone who has stepped into a new leadership role knows that the less-than-positive feelings that come with authority are often unexpected. CEOs and other leaders go to great lengths to maintain a façade of unflappable confidence — concealing any insecurities or feelings of anxiety. But this cycle creates dangerous problems for both leaders and their organizations as a whole. In today’s high-stakes business environment, leaders cannot afford to ignore doubts and anxieties that risk impacting their entire organization. Now is the time for leaders to acknowledge these feelings and work proactively to defeat them.

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Clint,

Really like your comments about compassion and buddhism. Thank you.

Eric Bonetti

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A Facebook User

I'm going to speak about priests, not deacons, here, and why I'm a little skeptical of these CEO comparisons:

To me, what makes a priest a priest is that they are *able* to isolate themselves -- that is, in times of moral crisis, they're able to stand up and say, "I'm going to do the right thing". That's why clergy are often on the front line of service in places like rural third-world communities, or the ones who speak out most strongly in the face of massive political oppression, like Bonhoeffer. CEOs aren't really obligated to do those kinds of things.

I'm not saying that practically, on a day-to-day basis, priests don't need other humans that are sort of their equals to hang around with, without having to sustain some kind of pastoral-type relationship. But nobody has that continuous privilege in life -- we all fall into isolation sooner or later, even if we're surrounded by equals. In the moments before his death, Christ felt completely isolated -- "why have you abandoned me?" If we never fall into isolation, then probably we're not taking the moral risks that Christ calls us to do in the first place.

The personality type of a priest should contain the ability to be courageous when a social support system breaks down. They have to be the kind of people who won't react proudly, by becoming the expert in all things, or by dominating their congregation (and subordinate clergy), but the opposite -- to humbly admit their powerlessness and walk alone with God. When I was a kid and wanted to be a priest, my parents replied, "it takes a very special kind of person to do that." I realized I wasn't; I rely too much on others' support and approval.

If you are not that kind of person, that's not a moral problem or anything. But should you be then acting as an intermediary between humans and God? Because let's not forget, that's what priesthood is ultimately about. It's not the fancy apartments, the social connections, the charity work, or even the prayer. It's the sacraments. 90% of the time, it's you, and you alone, blessing the bread and wine.

Erik Campano

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A Facebook User

I'm going to speak about priests, not deacons, here, and why I'm a little skeptical of these CEO comparisons:

To me, what makes a priest a priest is that they are *able* to isolate themselves -- that is, in times of moral crisis, they're able to stand up and say, "I'm going to do the right thing". That's why clergy are often on the front line of service in places like rural third-world communities, or the ones who speak out most strongly in the face of massive political oppression, like Bonhoeffer. CEOs aren't really obligated to do those kinds of things.

I'm not saying that practically, on a day-to-day basis, priests don't need other humans that are sort of their equals to hang around with, without having to sustain some kind of pastoral-type relationship. But nobody has that continuous privilege in life -- we all fall into isolation sooner or later, even if we're surrounded by equals. In the moments before his death, Christ felt completely isolated -- "why have you abandoned me?" If we never fall into isolation, then probably we're not taking the moral risks that Christ calls us to do in the first place.

The personality type of a priest should contain the ability to be courageous when a social support system breaks down. They have to be the kind of people who won't react proudly, by becoming the expert in all things, or by dominating their congregation (and subordinate clergy), but the opposite -- to humbly admit their powerlessness and walk alone with God. When I was a kid and wanted to be a priest, my parents replied, "it takes a very special kind of person to do that." I realized I wasn't; I rely too much on others' support and approval.

If you are not that kind of person, that's not a moral problem or anything. But should you be then acting as an intermediary between humans and God? Because let's not forget, that's what priesthood is ultimately about. It's not the fancy apartments, the social connections, the charity work, or even the prayer. It's the sacraments. 90% of the time, it's you, and you alone, blessing the bread and wine.

A Facebook User- please sign your name next time. Thanks ~ed.

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Clint Davis

The psychotherapeutic idea of boundaries isn't helpful. The Buddhist idea of non-attachment is much more useful, immediately helpful, spiritually healthy, and apparently compassionate. The question is not, am I allowed to emote or "let someone in", but rather, what length of time is useful to all to be compassionate, in the literal sense of "suffer with" someone, before the compassionate exercise becomes one of useless self-pity and deepening attachment to emotional states and dramatic flair. It is a mistake to think that, in order to be compassionate to all, one must truly be there for none. But it takes a lot of practice to be compassionate to all, and learning this skill must accompany any teachings about appropriate boundaries or we truly are God's Frozen People.

Maybe it's this obsession with boundaries and an irrational fear of emotional states that is at the heart of some of the interpersonal problems the Episcopal Church has. Emotional states come and go, they do not remain. Understand, teach and practice this to be free of emotion's most damaging consequences.

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www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=560747865

Here in Sioux City, though there aren't many Episcopal clergy, there is a substantial link offered to fellowship with many Lutheran clergy. We study the coming Sunday's texts together on Tuesday and on Fridays we get together for pizza and beer.

The best feature of this kind of this arrangement is its regularity and informality. The group is self-sustaining; it has a kind of stratification and elderhood but nothing official. If I walked in to any given meeting feeling lonely or weepy, I'd be asked about it and expected to answer honestly.

Where I live, though, is an area that altogether encompasses about 100,000 people, so the opportunities are more plentiful.

I am also part of a Lily funded venture whose fiscal agent is the College of Pastoral Leaders. CPL funds clergy cohort groups who have a clear vision of how they together would work against burnout in ministry. Burnout certainly isn't always fed by loneliness, but they seem to keep company.

I do other things, too, to keep the mental lights on and the collegial companionship going. I appreciate Donald's comments and will have to consider them further, but for now, while I might not seek to make a significant body of close friends within the parish, I feel I'm doing what I can.

In other words, to the extent clergy can take hold of this issue for themselves and create sustaining contacts in whatever way feeds them, they should do so without apologizing for it.

Torey Lightcap

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