Loneliness in Ministry

Ministry can be a lonely job.  I think this hits me hardest every year at this time.  Why this time of year, I am not certain.  Maybe the busy-ness of the start of the new connexional year (1 Sept), lead up to Christmas, and then Lent/Easter will block it out.  In some sense, it’s strange that ministry is such a lonely job because in seminary, I was taught how the vision of God’s kingdom centred more on community than on the ‘Jesus-and-me’ of my evangelical church.  On the other side, it seems natural as this is not something I believe I am alone in feeling, and I have seen it happen to ministers before me.  Forming close relationships with church members can be difficult and even harmful in some cases.  Besides, I never stop being their minister, at least as long as I am their pastor.

I should add that I don’t mean to sound as if I am disparaging my church members, or even more so my wife.  April has been a strong support for me.  What I miss is the friendships that I formed before ministry. I especially think of my years at Duke Divinity.  I formed some of my closest friendships there.  I miss the random discussions about theology, the intrigue of what the other folk in our school were doing (OK, this might qualify as ‘gossip’), and the dinners at El Rodeo in Durham.  It seemed there was always an outlet from the schedule of exam revision, paper preparation, and reading.  

Now I find myself so immersed in church work that it goes everywhere I do.  I can’t think of a place where I am not ‘the minister’ or find times where I can step away from that role even slightly.  The friends outside of my circuit work (that I can make) come closest to this, but our schedules tie us up from meeting, and we otherwise wouldn’t meet regularly.  And inevitably, work-related stuff will come up (‘Talking shop’, as an Anglican curate friend of mine calls it when we veer into these subjects).  Sometimes, that’s not so bad, as we all need to blow off steam about our jobs (why friendships in the church can be difficult).  I’ll admit the problem is slightly exacerbated with my being an American with the only people I know over here being related to a church function in which I have been ‘the minister’.  Others have their ‘previous life’ friends already.

There doesn’t seem to be regular place (an El Rodeo, if you like) or a time when we can all meet and just ‘take the collar off’.  Does such a place exist?

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8 thoughts on “Loneliness in Ministry

  1. I hear you. It’s one reason I value my blog friends. I’m feeling my way into making friendships, but it’s still a ‘feeling’ process.

  2. Will,

    You are so right about this. I have no easy answers, just walking a similar path – but I definitely hear the extra cost when you are not in your home country.

  3. There doesn’t seem to be regular place (an El Rodeo, if you like) or a time when we can all meet and just ‘take the collar off’. Does such a place exist?

    I wonder if groups of ministers (she says euphemistically) could arrange this for themselves? I’m sure we’d need plenty of notice, but I’m happy to try to be the organiser this time.

    There *is* a group of women with whom I did Foundation Training who meet once a year and we are on an email group together. This helps some, but I’ve always felt a bit on the periphery of this group – even when we were in training. (Strangely, many of my friends throughout my life have been heterosexual men who had mostly female friends….)

  4. Pam, I think this is a great idea. Actually, I think it would be the only way it would happen. I find the groups that the church will often form for us usually feel forced at best.

    I would be up for your idea. What do you have in mind?

  5. Around here 5 of us get together for lunch, we manage it about every 6 to 12 weeks. Very helpful, lot’s of shop talk and watching over each other. But we are lucky in being geographically close (a central point is about 30 mins drive). We had been in the probationers group together but carried on after probation. But things like this can be very closed and hard to bring in new people, plus will it last after next stationing round is a big question.

    I agree with Will that it can’t be forced on people, you have got to allow friendships to form and gell.

    So self organisation is good, but with geographic spread face to face meetings are going to be rare.

    Personally I think districts could do more to give ministers time to meet socially and form social/supportive networks. Eg we ate our sarnies together at synod, I worry about becoming a clique with me hanging on the coat-tails of the brightest and best (yes Jen, Glayne, John, Mindy, Barbara I mean you).

  6. I think right, Dave, that it finally will come down to our intentionality, but as you point out, Districts could do more to encourage our intentionality. Often, we get our cues from the leaders. If we don’t see anyone else getting together or an effort to calm down the meetings, it will be harder for anyone to justify it. And some in the church (ministers and laity) will always assume that others are slacking off work.

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