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BONUS BLOG: 6 Desperate Cries for Help. Please Listen.

March 16, 2023

Mike Rayson has much to say. Please listen to this, from earlier today —-

This past week, a young, vivacious, popular and much loved and admired Church of England priest ended her own private suffering. She led the work of St Bene’t’s Church in Cambridge (UK). Her name was and is The Rev’d Canon Anna Matthews. It’s important to say her name – to acknowledge her existence – to put a face to a name instead of filing this away in the “too hard” basket.

To be brutally honest with you all, I understand some of this. Often times, clergy are placed under enormous pressures and when the load becomes more than we can bear, we don’t know who to turn to. That might sound silly to you – I mean, we are clergy and we should have plenty of resources to turn to when things reach a crisis point.

But… who do we turn too? A fellow priest/presbyter/elder/minister? That’s all well and good, but what if that cleric one day becomes our boss in an episcopal triangle of ministry – where the Bishop holds the top job, and like Reaganomics, it trickles down from there. In my own experience, there’s also a deep sense of shame that I can’t deal with my own “stuff” because, well, I wear the lid of a margarine container around my neck.

I don’t know Canon Matthew’s story – and neither do I – or you – need too. All we need know is that sometimes clergy face unbelievable pressure from all sides all the time. To ask for help, any help, even just to ask another clergy friend to lend an ear over a cup of coffee and a cookie feels dangerous and has the ability to cast yourself as a failure in the eyes of the church and in the eyes of God. And often times, more often than you think, the “lended ears” have a great big sieve that leak juicy details to other colleagues.

I know this. I’ve experienced this. There have been times I’ve stayed in bed for days ignoring the phone and not responding to text messages… because like Canon Matthew’s, who do you turn too when life throws an enormous load of stuff at you. That stuff sometimes sticks. As a clergyman, I’ve been accused of stealing money, having an affair, misconduct for ‘stealing sheep’ from nearby churches – the list goes on and on. Plus, I myself live with manic depression – which is well medicated and allows me to function at a high level. I’ve learned to hide my own depression well.

Perhaps – you may think – the clergy could confide in a trusted congregant. No, not really. We are sent to serve communities, not rely on communities to support us. And all it takes is one slip of the tongue from a trusted parishioner, and the whole church is on fire.

Canon Matthew’s death happened an ocean away from the United States – but there is a high rate of suicide among clergy even here in the United States. I’ve attended a couple of funerals for colleagues who simply see no other way.

So… what can we do?

Firstly, regardless of how well we think our minister is doing, we should pray for them regularly.

Secondly, we can be a help and support to our clergy in some practical ways. I don’t mean listening – although listening is always good – I’m talking about the occasional delivered box of flowers with an encouraging note attached… or a gift card to a local restaurant…

Thirdly, the culture of “we pay our pastor to do that” should never enter your mind or pass your lips (or occupy your ears) ever. E.V.E.R! A minister is a co-laborer with you in Christ – not the paid representative to do the work of evangelism, hospitality and generosity. for you. The idea that you can pay your pastor to do the work that your are commanded in scripture to do isn’t just wrong, it’s bordering on heresy. A part of this is volunteering. Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth with no anesthesia. When you decide you are just too busy for a church commitment (even somethimg thst may take an hour or two a month), more often than not, it falls on your minister to pick up the slack – and eventually that role gets so tight, it snaps. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the request to “follow me” was met in such a way that fisherman packed in their entire livelihood. If you can’t spare an hour a month… well… I invite you to read Luke’s gospel.

Fourthly (and this is for Bishops, Superintendents. head honcho’s and Ghandi’s security detail) LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND BEAT THEM INTO PLOWSHARE’s. Stop punishing clergy for being honest and showing vulnerability. (this is not directed at any denomination or prelate). Requiring your clergy to meet with a therapist monthly or more would be a good start – BUT – not a therapist who works for the church, or is appointed by a Bishop etc. a clergyperson should be completely confident that the therapist is slipping information back to the hierarchy: and believe me, this happens regularly. sit hapoened to me.

Fifthly… Always encourage. If you just heard a great sermon – then as you shake hands at the door, look your pastor in the eye and tell them what a great sermon that was – and include an observation on that sermon (not a long one – there are others in the line behind you). 🙂

And now for my sixth and final point (if you are still with me that is)… be totally aware EVERY week (whether you attend church the coming Sunday or not) that it takes your pastor between 10 and 20 hours every week to research, prepare and write a sermon. Most don’t understand that we don’t preach on a wing and a prayer… it can take up to as much as half our allotted time each week to prepare. Most of us don’t just leap up on Sunday armed with a bible and quick prayer. Also – and this is the absolute truth – at least for me, that the less time slent prepaing, the longer the sermon!!

Canon Matthew’s husband Stephen said..

“Having received communion at the 12:30 service on Thursday, as I prayed for Anna, I was given an image that has been of great comfort to me: Even as she fell, God lifted Anna up. She [Anna] was shining in the light of the resurrection as the hurt that overcame her fell away, along with her body. So, I pray to merciful God with hope that she was spared the final anguish, and in death she was cleansed and resurrected with Christ, rising in his glory.”

Take good care of your pastor, so that they can take good care of you.

The Rev’d Canon Anna Matthews

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  1. Bob Morwell permalink

    I remember a woman in a church I served who heard that a pastor was seekin help from a therapist. She indignantly snorted, “Where is is faith?!?”

    Some time after I left, her husband died and she sank into depression. She turned to my successor who counseled with her and apparently helped her. She sang his praises for helping her. I resisted the temptation to ask her why she needed her pastor’s help. Where was her faith? I was just glad she got help.

    A year or so later, he was removed from the ministry when it was revealed he was a wife beater. He had sought no help for his issue.


  2. Marlene permalink

    Suicide is a terrible thing. It has to be awful when you feel so low or abandoned that there is no way out except to leave this earth. Praying for those who feel so helpless!


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