Last week I came across a comment by an Assistant Priest who, after posting a remark on Facebook about Whitney Houston's drug abuse, riled the Bishop to such a degree that the Bishop asked her Rector to fire her. I must be having delusions, because I can't believe that a the Bishop is even close to reality. Yet I see the reality very plainly. The Bishop is terribly wrong, overbearing and uncharitable Whatever happened to the idea that Bishops are supposed to be pastors to their clergy? OK, tell the truth. I've had Bishops who were fantastic pastors, and others whose need for power and control dismantled any pastoral instinct.
In addition, parish Priests are sometimes caught between an overbearing Bishop and an angry group in the parish who would like to "get rid of this meddlesome priest." (King Henry II asked his followers to to murder Thomas a' Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury 1170.) Once, a very angry group in my parish set out to murder my ministry because I refused to fire a gay organist who brought his partner to the Sunday Eucharist. At the time I was a downtown Rector in a small Midwestern city. The level of conflict reached an unmanageable level, but somehow I survived, only because 8 out of 12 vestry members backed me. In the midst of this crisis, the Bishop was no help. Some Bishops simply hold back and wait to see who who wins and he was one of these. If the Priest loses, sayonara, which in Japanese means "have a nice trip" to the unemployment lines. These kinds of experiences, reflecting on clergy life after 11 years of retirement, compel me to think of my colleagues still in the thick of active ministry with profound gratitude and awe for their amazing courage, tenacity and faithfulness.
Still on the subject, another phenomenon has emerged in recent years. Jobs for full time seminary trained parish Priests have vanished and are still drying up. When I was ordained in my Diocese 50 years ago, there were 23 full time positions which are no longer there. 4 jobs were added during the time, which makes a net loss of 19. In the natural skepticism of my advancing yeas, I cannot help but wonder if this was planned obsolescence. Years ago the church decided to expand the Priesthood to folks who worked outside the church as a means to supply small churches that could no longer support a full time Priest. While I can agree that this was necessary at the time, these part time job have encroached into urban and suburban congregations that have fallen on hard times. Regarding this, it must be said that very few Bishops have lost their jobs and staffs during these times. In fact until recently, Diocesan administrative staffs have increased.
For those seminary Priests who still have full time jobs, my advice is to hang in there and hold on to what you have. With our declining church and the closing of churches, there may be few opportunities for you in the future. And here is another thing. If you have a former career, keep you skills up. You may need them. If you are one of the rare Clergy who was ordained young and have no other career history, find out what you do best and what you like to do and make them transferable skills into other job trajectories. You may think that I am disrespectful here of your calling and your ordination vows. Not so. I admire you and support you and wish you a long life of service in parish ministry. But the data suggest that it "ain't gonna be easy."
It is very stressful to do ministry in today's mainline church decline. Methodists, Presbyterians, ELCA Lutherans, The Disciples of Christ and the UCC are right along with us. To all of you, my brothers and sisters in ministry, I take my hat off to you because YOU ARE MY HEROS