How to Create a Clergy Support Group

Attention Clergy Friends:  to whom do you turn when you need support and enrichment?

Roundtable 2010This is what clergy support has looked like for me:

First call – Rural Congregation  

  • Met with the two geographically close-by PCUSA male colleagues occasionally to plan joint youth events for our handful of youth and to pray for each other.
  • Regular breakfasts with Fr. Richard  to talk about celibacy (his and mine).

Second call:  Clergy Group Bonanza in Our Nation’s Capital  (Now the groups have Names.)

  • Lex Girls – About eight clergywomen in National Capital Presbytery, meeting monthly to share lectionary resources.  Some of the most creative women I know, whose preaching I continue to admire.  
  • Preaching Roundtable – Created during/after finishing degrees at Columbia Theological Seminary in the days when Moveable Feast didn’t include women.  Wide range of ages and church sizes hailing from multiple states and Scotland  (Cindy Bolbach called this group International Lex Girls.)  We have been meeting for 10+ years in the cities where one of us lives, which means we’ve been all over: Richmond, DC, NY, Atlanta, San Antonio, Austin, Edinburgh, San Francisco, Montreat – and this year in Chicago.  We used to share lectionary sermons and resources and then we moved to themes.  We shared sermons preached on federal holidays in DC.  (i.e. sermons for Veterans’ Day, 4th of July, etc.) We shared life- milestone sermons one year (e.g. sermons about marriage, singleness, divorce, parenting, adoption, etc.)  This year the theme is Interfaith – sermons we might preach at an interfaith service or in one of our own churches on  interfaith marriage, etc.  We’ll be hanging out at Interfaith Youth Core this year.  We consistently eat very well.
  • Writing Revs – 4-6 National Capital Clergywomen who write articles, books, blogs, poetry.  We still grieve the loss of KB.
  • The Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along group (my personal name for this gathering), ostensibly made up of an equal number of “conservative” and “liberal” male and female pastors in the Presbytery, meeting in hopes of creating connections.  It’s harder to be snarky to someone on the other side if you’ve been praying for his kids.
  • And then there were others:  Presbymergent, Emerging Church Cohort, digital communities.

Third (but interim) Call: Presbytery Staff

  • Roundtable continues. We’ve gone through marriages, births, new calls, unemployment, major traumas, and basic life together for over a decade.  We turn to each other for professional and personal support.  An enormous blessing.
  • Clergy Book Group – several male and female clergy from the Presbyteries of Chicago and Milwaukee, reading both fiction and nonfiction, and talking about our work.

How do we create these essential groups for ourselves?

  • Be pro-active.  Contact a small group of people you’d like to get to know better, hang out with, study with, pray with and invite them to meet.  If they say “no” don’t worry about it.  If they say “yes” you can try it out.
  • Be flexible.  Maybe you start as one thing and evolve into another.  It’s fine.
  • If it’s not working out, allow individual people to leave the group with no hard feelings.  Some of us have too many home responsibilities.  Some of us are looking for something else.
  • Try not to commodify each other – although this is hard.  Of course we want to meet with people for our own support and edification.  How fun would it be to meet in a clergy group with Rob Bell or Nadia Bolz Weber?  It’s fun to have cool friends.  But this is mostly about authentic selfless relationships.  We need this and others do too.  

Some of us consider it a boundary problem for clergy to have deep friendships with parishioners.  In fact, it is a boundary problem.  No matter what, we will always be The Pastor and this limits what we can say or do with people in our faith communities.

Do you have a clergy support group?  And how does it enhance your ministry? Please share.  And parishioners:  if you have a pastor, ask her/him, “Who is your pastor?”

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3 responses to “How to Create a Clergy Support Group

  1. Three for me: clergy book group; neighborhood partnership; Women Touched By Grace ( A Lilly supported program that has provided me with nineteen Protestant sisters from all over the US and Canada along with deep friendships and support from Benedictine women religious who are our teachers, colleagues, prayer partners, spiritual directors and more.)
    Life-savers all.

  2. Local Presby solo pastor Tuesday morning coffee group I started years ago, Starting Strong group formed by COM when seven first call pastors all were installed within a three month period, Bible Babes–a great ecumenical group of women pastors I was part of which met for monthly lunches, a Lilly-funded group I’m currently part of which meets monthly for lunch and quarterly for retreats, RevGals, and of course The World’s Best Book Group.

    Looking back on this list, I can see I’ve been extraordinarily blessed with supportive relationships. (I’m so lucky I can add the Cheesehead flava to the book group!)

  3. Michelle Thomas-Bush

    Great post!

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