For me, ministry is the family business. I am an ordained Baptist minister. Married to an ordained Baptist minister. My grandfather was a pastor, my dad is a pastor, my sister is a pastor. The rhythms and the risks of clergy life are things we know by heart.
We know the joy of being present in those holy moments. And we also know the anxiety of facing conflicts and expectations. We know the deep gratitude for being able to serve the church in pulpits and classrooms, in hospital waiting rooms and coffee shops. Additionally, we know the weight of this holy privilege and sacred task. And to be sure, we also know the risks and the grief of being hurt by a church. In my family, there is an ongoing conversation about how many ministers are seeking new career paths. Ministers are naming some realities that are troubling to confess.
We are in the middle of Clergy Appreciation Month. What does clergy appreciation look like in this exact season? Let’s consider that it does not look like whatever it has been in the past two years.
Things that seemed nice pre-pandemic or mid-pandemic might just need a little tweaking this year. Because it has been a marathon season of reimagining, re-making, gathering-again, pausing-again, holding-on again ministry.
Want to show appreciation that truly sees and values your minister? It really is a kind thought to want to gift wrap something special. A gift card is more your style? They can be very thoughtful. The thing that adds a touch of care is to think of a specific activity or interest your minister has, and gift them with that activity. Learning what makes your minister’s heart sing is a kindness. Book stores, yoga studios, sporting goods, craft supplies, wine tasting or cooking class. What could you offer that a minister might not spend money on for themselves?
Beyond the gifts you can buy in a store, let’s think about this question: What are some ways to name, value and gift your minister? A few ideas:
- Respite and rest
We know rest is essential for flourishing. We also know that the task of planning for, paying for and (sometimes) fighting for the much-needed space for rest is a whole added stressor. Rest is necessary. And preparing for rest is work. When we tell clergy to “take care of yourself” and take some time for respite, we are adding a task to their very full to-do list.
One way to care for clergy might be to take some of the guilt, cost or worry off their plate. Ask yourself or your committee, “How can we offer space and time for rest to this minister in a way that will not cost them?” Perhaps paying for a babysitter for a set amount of hours (a babysitter selected by the minister, rather than volunteer yourself), offering an extra Sunday of vacation (on a date the minister selects) offering your vacation home for a few days, or other ways to offer restful space.
- Permission to laugh
Some days are light and delightful. Some days are full of grief or brick walls. Clergy folks need those prompts to hold things lightly, and sometimes a little laughter goes a long way. Fun, sarcastic or quirky gifts are sometimes just the thing to invite your minister to belly laugh and breathe deep. Consecrate Box does a great job of curating trinkets, treats and tools for clergy — and many of them make us smile.
- Share a story
When do we tell the stories of how a minister impacted our lives? At retirement? On anniversaries? Stories can remind us why we do this work and take these risks of ministry. What would it be like to think of a moment in recent days when a minister preached, showed up, taught or served you in a way that made a lasting impression. Take five minutes to write that story, and then email it to your minister. It may be a life-giving story for them to read and know that they are seen.
- Snap a picture
Sometimes, it is good to be seen. It matters to ministers that their work matters. Find a moment when your minister is shining, doing the thing they do well. Snap a picture, or a series of pictures. Gift it to them — email, framed, collaged. Tell your clergy friend what you see in the moments they are serving God.
- Quote them
Ministers work with words quite often. Sifting words, praying over words, studying words, preparing words, offering words. A handshake at the close of a service is kind. Taking the time to write down the words that touched your heart and challenged you? Wow. It is the gift of naming that your minister is heard. What if you shared that quote on social media? Give your minister something nice to see in their feed. Tag them, name their good work. Here’s a place to start: Share this post. Name the way you see this minister bringing light, offering care, bearing witness to hope.
- Guard their boundaries.
Research and good sense tell us that ministers and congregations need healthy boundaries. How could you or your congregation recognize and celebrate those boundaries? Try having a talk with your minister to understand the times they have set aside for sabbath, or a day off, or a family commitment. Then celebrate your minister’s boundaries.
What would it be like if you printed in the church bulletin, “Rev. Jones takes a day of rest on Fridays, and we give thanks for the ways she models the importance of rest.” Or try, “Rev. Brooks is available at this phone number, but will return texts and email after 9:00 a.m. on Tuesdays.” Bringing boundary setting into the narrative of congregational life can support clergy in upholding those boundaries.
- A meal
Much can be said for the healing power of a gathering around a good meal. What meal would be an act of care for your minister? A gift card for a favorite restaurant. A picnic basket packed with goodies for your minister and their family. A box of snacks for the trail for your minister and her dog. A Saturday morning cozy bundle basket with coffee, cinnamon rolls and fruit. Thank your minister for nourishing your spiritual life, and find ways to nourish them.
- Sing a hymn
Voices raised together in worship is something many ministers care about deeply. What hymn could name the journey you have traveled together? Find a moment in worship to dedicate a hymn to the glory of God and gratitude for the ministry of a clergy person. Super creative writers? Write an additional verse that names the faithful work of a minister. Then, sing it with gusto.
- Learn from the trends
There is currently an exodus of clergy from positions of ministry. While every situation is different and layered, the themes are common. What an act of care for your own pastor or minister to do a little reading up on this trend. Maybe this trend is not reaching your own congregation, but it makes sense to be aware of something that affects so many contexts. Give it a read. Find out more about what is happening, and allow this learning to shape your prayers and your responses in your own setting.
Not the book you just read. Not the book you want your minister to read. Ask what your minister has been reading lately. Ask what book intrigued them, surprised them, challenged them. Then, look up that book. Find similar topics. Find “frequently bought” or “also recommended” with this title. Gift that new book to your minister. Bonus points if you never ask them “So what did you think of it?” What about giving them the new Pastoral Imagination book or journal? We have a special discount code for Clergy Appreciation Month. Just subscribe to our weekly email and the code will come to your inbox.
Erin Robinson Hall is a writer, podcaster, ministry leader, content curator and preacher. She and her husband, Jake, live with their young children in Macon, Ga.
This article originally appeared on the website of Eileen Campbell-Reed.
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