Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tonto Was More Than a Sidekick

Tonto was more than a sidekick--he was a friend.

Throughout this past week, United Methodist clergy from the South Carolina Annual Conference gathered for day-long meetings throughout the state in places like Winnsboro. We gathered to listen to Garlinda Burton, the General Secretary for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. We listened once again to a discussion of sexual ethics; one might think that clergy would be immune from such problems---one would be wrong. According to Ms. Burton, millions of dollars have been paid across United Methodism in recent years for clergy sexual misconduct. Allegations of clergy misconduct are nothing new and are not limited to sexual abuse as recent South Carolina news reports indicate. Clergy, as with the general population, sin and fall short of the glory of God.

As I listened to Ms. Burton, it seems that one of the early signs of what could be later trouble (of many varieties) for clergy is isolation. My friends and I call it the “Lone Ranger Syndrome”—the belief that one can do it all alone. Sometimes it happens because of geography--we serve isolated or rural settings. Other times it happens because we work without much Sabbath time…we become the indispensable pastor. Regardless of the reason, it isn’t long until we don’t have many clergy friends we speak with on a regular basis. Clergy connections and friendships are important because our colleagues know the ministry in general and some of our friends know us better than we know ourselves. They know the journey we take and the people we are. Without that clergy connection or accountability, we can isolate ourselves into weariness, overwork, and a loss of perspective. With defenses and boundaries weakened by the lack of community support and care, clergy can find themselves in vulnerable places facing temptations that normally they might withstand.

Connection and accountability is important in our faith journey. We cannot be lone rangers in any Christian endeavor. We grow as Christians when we are connected to others who love and care for us as we love and care for them. Clergy have to have that connection, not just for their own spiritual growth or friendship needs (that is important as well) but to keep balanced and aware of their souls and the places and people they serve.

So the last paragraph is about the challenge:

If you are a layperson, ask your pastor when the last time he/she had a day off. Encourage them to take one regularly. If you are a clergyperson, call the pastor in the church/charge next to you this week and just chat. You never know how important and meaningful it might be for that pastor---and for you.

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