A couple of things have happened in the last few weeks have made me think about self-care, and why we clergy are often not very good at it.
First, I had the opportunity on January 5th to sit in the congregation at St. Margaret’s while my honorary assistant, Susan, led the service. This is something I haven’t done before. I was on holiday, and usually when I’m on holiday I don’t go to church at St. Margaret’s, because try as they might, people find it difficult not to treat me as the rector. Or at least, in my mind, they find it difficult.
Turns out I was mostly wrong about that. Mainly, they were very good about it. It was my Mum’s last day with us (she was flying home to England mid-afternoon), and some of our kids came to St. Margaret’s, too, so we took up a whole row in the church. Susan did an excellent job of leading the service and preaching; she’s highly competent, as well as being relaxed and natural, and it was a wonderful experience to receive communion at someone else’s hands, rather than being the one who gave it to everyone. And for the most part, people treated us as ordinary members of the congregation. It felt incredibly peaceful.
The second thing that happened was that I had a conversation with someone who reads my sermons online. This person is part of a parish far from here where there isn’t a particularly good or consistent preaching ministry, and she was expressing appreciation for the fact that, through reading my sermons, she ‘got fed’ spiritually in a way she didn’t experience at her own church. And I found myself thinking, “I know exactly how you feel, because week by week, I’m the one that does the feeding.” Very rarely do I get to listen while someone else opens up the Bible for me and applies it to our daily lives. That was something else I really appreciated about January 5th.
Which leads me to ask: why do I feel guilty when I take an hour to read a good theological book (even though my to-do list isn’t getting any shorter), or do some self-directed Bible study that’s not aimed at producing a sermon? And why do I so very rarely give others the chance to lead? After all, I have an honorary assistant who’s very willing, and six lay readers as well. It’s not as if I couldn’t give them more scope for ministry. So why don’t I let them do more? Is it something to do with ego, or the need to be needed? Surely I’m not that immature, am I?
I’ll let you be the judge of that. Meanwhile, it turns out I need to have a talk with someone about being accountable for my own self-care. I suspect I’m not alone in that!