Being a Pastor and a New Graduate

Posted: April 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

More and more our churches are looking at ways to cut back on spending, there is less revenue coming in as there are less people attending churches. Some churches see a fix to their financial issue in getting a new minister, one freshly graduated, just out of seminary. As this means for them they get cheap labour and they still have a full time minister.

There are problems with this way of thinking. Often at least in Canada, the churches willing to take young, fresh seminarians are in rural areas. Rural areas are lovely, and the churches often have many volunteers to take on tasks. Rural areas however can be shocking to a new minister and their family. At least in the Maritime’s rural means a lack of jobs and a lack of social opportunities. It also can be hard to break into a rural area, as most people were born and raised here, you are seen as an outsider. This is further complicated by the fact that you are the Minister, and/or the Minister’s partner/child etc. All your business is soon known to the small community.

In my case I am a young (one of only 15 across the country under 30 ordained ministers within my denomination) minister. This is my first career and as such I spent 8 years in school to get ordained. That schooling comes with a lot of debt. My spouse has been completely supportive and followed me around from my undergraduate, to graduate studies and internship and now to the country life. He also has his undergraduate degree with debt. As we moved around so much due to the way the program is structured he has never had a professional job, he has instead chosen to do whatever work pays the bills while I have been in school. That has always worked for us, except now that we have come to the country.

The church offered two pathways into ministry, one path is where the new minister found their own church (call) and then the traditional route where the minister is placed by a committee into a church community (settlement). I chose the latter as I soon found out Maritime churches being slow to change, did not perhaps want a newly ordained Minister. With settlement comes challenges, and boy have we ever faced those challenges.

We knew we were heading towards an English community surrounding by French communities just on the cusp of the Acadian Pennisula. We never considered what that really meant for us. We thought well if a committee matched us here then it has to be alright. That was the wrong hypothesis to make. We experience first culture shock, as it sets in that we are first the youngest people in the village, and secondly that the village is mostly french and we do not speak a work of french. We were literally city folks plunked down into the country. Slowly I began to learn the way of country life, such as what a sump pump is, and how a well works.

We settle into the very quiet life, but it soon begins to become undone. We are the youngest people in the village, the next youngest would be in their late fifties, we however aren’t even 30 years old. So it meant no social life. We tried starting up a softball team, no one responded, we looked for social events, most were in french. Drawback one.
My partner had kept himself fairly busy with looking for work. No matter where we had lived before he had always found work doing something, his fall back job had been working in a kitchen. Little did we realize, that the jobs we were told about that exist here all require French, which he does not have. One month passes no work and no interviews, two months pass, three, four, five months, seven months pass before he finds employment. Within that time student loans comes a knocking wanting to be repayed, car loans need to be paid, and we need to eat somehow. Did I mention I am a newly ordained Minister?

I slowly see my spouse become depressed, the only job he was able to find was a contract with a call center an hour drive away. If you have ever worked at a call center you know how depressing that can be. With him being depressed I find myself getting slowly sucked down as well. Turns out the first year ministry is very challenging indeed. The bills are still coming in the doors even though the money is not coming in.

I throw myself into work to try to deal, after all, it’s only been 8 months here and we haven’t met a single friend. Friends aren’t that important are they? To deal with the isolation and loneliness and stress, I do what we are always told not to do in seminary, I become the workaholic preacher, working until midnight most nights and at work at 9 in the morning. I visit, make sure the paperwork gets done and administrative duties are done (as the country church does not have paid secretarial support).

Did I also mention that the past clergy person was here for five years an had a spouse who filled  in and helped out with many of his duties? So here I am filling the role of two people, and I am only one person. I cover a 73 kilometer stretch with three churches within my pastoral charge. So I cover three seperate and distinct communities which are about an hour between furthest points, the middle one being half way.

As my spouse becomes more withdrawn I throw myself into work more, only to find out that it’s not helping and that I am coming apart at the seams. Things are not good here. There is some major conflict happening within the church community due to an outside conflict that started before I arrived. Are things complicated enough yet?

Did I mention that one church also is a covenanting community and governed my a different set of rules than the other two churches which includes using different hymn books, and it completely against homosexuality while I am an affirming clergy person?

The churches which often accept new ministers aren’t always healthy and many times have issues which are magnified by isolation and community conflict. The national church has not learned to deal with issues such as increasing student debt. The national church is still working on the paradigm that ministers come out of school with little debt and that their spouses have little to no debt. This is not true. It is extremely hard to be a young, first career minister when we are thrown out into the wilderness and expected to just deal with little to no support and no feedback into the process that caused us to be placed in these situations.

The church needs to wake up and realize that student debt is real. Myself and my spouse have over $90,000 in student debt. Both of us need to work in order to pay that off. The world has changed in the past decade. More than one clergy marriage has the settlement process ended, mine however was not going to be another statistic. So it was with sadness that I had to admit a few weeks ago things just weren’t working and put in my resignation to my church.

We are placed into broken churches, expected to bring forth wholeness. We are placed into situations where it’s nearly impossible to thrive and expected to grow. We are placed into areas where we are needed while our needs are ignored. The church needs to change or it will have no new clergy left.

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