This letter to the editor appeared in edited form in the November 25, 2015 issue of The Christian Century
Carol Howard Merritt’s “Reflections on the Lectionary” essay of October 28 begins with a description of her exhausted clergy husband awakened on his day off by a call from a community member in need. She worries about how long he can keep this up and wonders if she should stop him and remind him of boundaries and self-care. But then she recalls the model of Jesus and says nothing. Off he goes. It is not their admirable commitment to the needy that I take issue with here; it is the sacrificial model of ministry that they both seem to accept.
There is a small but growing clergy spouse and partner movement in the mainline that is increasingly concerned with the well-documented decline in clergy health and increasing levels of stress in clergy families. Along with others like the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle at Auburn Theological Seminary we believe that a more balanced model of ministry is not only possible but required for truly prophetic (and sustainable) leadership. In my state, the New Hampshire Conference of the UCC has formed a Clergy Spouse and Partner Support Mission to bring the voices of clergy spouses and partners to the table. There are other efforts in other places and denominations, but I would say that a shared goal is to seek a healthy balance between congregations, clergy, and clergy families and thereby contribute to the renewal of the mainline church.
Although the chronically overworked pastor is considered inevitable by some and a matter of pride to others, there is a growing feeling among many of us that, like many inherited aspects of the 1950’s church, it is something that needs to be reexamined as new models of doing church emerge.
Bob James, Durham New Hampshire