The sad news arrived of the death by apparent suicide of the son of famous pastor Rick Warren (author of the book and series "Purpose-Driven Life"). It is always sad to hear about the death of a young adult, especially by suicide, and I was sad to hear this news.
Even more sad has been the fact that, while many people have reached out in sympathy to the Warren family, many others have used this opportunity to blame and condemn Rev. Warren. Some of those laying blame have been blatantly anti-Christian, and many have used this sad occasion to blast both the Warrens and their Christian faith.
This sad situation is a good reminder that pastors and their families are human, too. Some people seem surprised, angry, and blaming when they hear about a clergy person or members of their family having problems, illness, depression, or death. Many clergy can share stories of insensitive remarks made by persons who lay guilt or shame on them about their perceived failures or inadequacies. In the midst of many supportive parishioners, even a few unkind remarks can be painful.
Perhaps this sad situation with the Warren family can remind all of us that clergy and their families are human, too. Being in the public view (as all clergy are) means one is vulnerable and exposed at just the moments when they need support, sensitivity, and care. Being persons who talk about God and about faith means clergy are vulnerable to anyone who is angry at God or who has lost faith. Being persons who try to provide care and support for others means clergy feel the absence of such care and support when they or their own families need that kind of care and support.
Studies show that most pastors would not advise their own children to go into ministry, perhaps because they have found the ministry to be so painful. Studies also show that many of our clergy suffer from depression, perhaps because they struggle to deal with the double-standard that comes with being in the role of a visible faith leader.
Pastors and their families are human, too. Although the month of October is technically "Pastor Appreciation Month" when some churches offer appreciation to their clergy, perhaps this month of April is another good time to offer such support and encouragement. Our pastors have just finished the demanding time of leading their churches through Holy Week and Easter Sunday, and other clergy in extension ministry have also had demanding schedules. So now, April, would be a great time to offer prayers, cards, kindnesses, and affirmations to our clergy – they are human, too, and they need such gestures.
Allow me to begin with this prayer for our UM clergy here in Indiana:
O Lord, we thank You for those who have heard Your call into ministry in various settings. We pray that You will uplift them with a sense of the importance of their work, and we pray that those to whom they minister will bless them and thank them for their ministry. Strengthen our clergy, O Lord, and give them Your peace which passes all understanding and which sustains us even when others do not offer such peace. This prayer is offered in the name and spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the source of our ministry. Amen.