Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for those of us in the (non-Orthodox) Christian world. Today we remember Jesus’ pageantry as he rode into Jerusalem, and from here we re-tell the stories of a last meal and new commandment, betrayal, denial, and commitment, as we journey to the cross, the tomb, and Easter. It is a holy week indeed.
It is also a generally extremely busy and often stressful week for pastors, perhaps more than any other in the liturgical year. However, people often overlook this, which just adds to the stress. (My theory is that unlike Advent/Christmas, the wider society is not aware of or involved in preparing for Easter other than getting baskets ready and hiding eggs, so people simply forget–even those that go to church!).
So, as we head into Holy Week 2015, here are five suggestions for ways to care for the pastors in your life so that they might experience the holy as well as the hectic of these days.
- Cancel, postpone, or delay meetings and/or events at the church. Now is not the time to discuss the arrangement of the storage closet near the fellowship hall, schedule an outside group to rehearse their brass band, or request a non-emergency pastoral care visit. Many churches have services on Thursday, Friday, and/or Saturday–and some have vigils which go through the night–and multiple services on Easter Sunday, many beginning before sunrise, as well as the traditional Easter Breakfast(s). This means multiple worship bulletins, set-up, music choices, sermons, and so on, as well as being present and pastoral during all those events. Nevermind that clergy do actually appreciate being able to try and experience these services, rather than just run them. Wait until after Easter for those meetings, keep the church as peaceful as possible, and allow your pastor some room for all the extra responsibilities that are already on the calendar for the next seven days.
- Offer to help–and follow through on that offer. Fold bulletins, set up chairs, arrange candles, proofread bulletins, make phone calls, bake bread, wash dishes, do laundry. Ask what needs to be done, and then actually do it! It’s beyond frustrating when ten people volunteering to accomplish a task and then only two people show up, so it takes three times as long. Or the pastor ends up having to do it instead of writing one of those sermons. **One caveat: the first part of this suggestion is to offer or ask. Please, please, please, while we appreciate the dedication, please don’t just take it upon yourself to do what you think needs to be done without checking in with someone first. Often that just adds more work when things need to be fixed!
- Bring coffee–or wine, or chocolate, or dinner, or flowers, or anything else that will let your pastor know you appreciate her and simply brighten your pastor’s day. We don’t need to be showered with gifts, but in the midst of a week in which we are not able to spend much time with our friends and families or even just sit and veg in front of the television, a little pick-me-up can go a long way toward lifting our spirits and renewing our energy.
- Show up. Pastors work hard to craft meaningful and holy worship experiences for our congregations and communities this week, and it really sucks when no one shows up. We get that people have busy lives, but this is an important week. We get that not everyone feels like taking on the drama of the Passion narrative, and that many struggle with these tough stories and their meaning. It is heavy and hurtful and hard, but it makes Easter so much more powerful, and we really want you to understand that. And, ok, we want to make our stress and late nights and long days feel worth it–which it doesn’t when people don’t actually attend all these special services. So make a point to show up this week and be open to whatever creative and innovative or traditional and familiar liturgy you experience, and be prepared to encounter the holy.
- Pray. Pray for your pastor this week. Pray for your family member or friend who is a pastor. Pray for all the pastors in your community, and even around the world. Pray that they might find a few moments to take a breath and re-center. Pray that they might not lose their temper or burst into tears and make it through this week with an intact sense of humor. Pray that they would be healthy. Pray that they would remember that they are not Jesus and do not need to be the savior. Pray that they would experience the holy breaking through the hectic. Pray that they would know God’s continuing presence, and Christ’s abundant grace, and the Spirit’s guidance and rejuvenation. Pray that they arrive at Easter ready to give and receive the Good News of the empty tomb, new life, and the promise of resurrection. And pray that they get a nice, long, Easter nap and a chance for a day of rest next week!