I was blessed during my several pastorates to have a number of clergy sitting in the pews. Some were retired, some were pastoral counselors, and several were seminary professors from nearby schools. With very few exceptions these colleagues were always encouraging and supportive, and I valued their comments, conversation and friendship.
Now I am a pew sitter myself for the most part, except for the odd pulpit supply invitation. I enjoy hearing a good sermon and have been blessed to hear many in recent years.
But not everyone finds the presence of clergy in the pews a blessing (see cartoon above). I have active colleagues who tell me that some of their retired clergy colleagues can be a burden to them, that they know they will be critical of them and they make them nervous.
When this happens it is a failure of a basic kind of collegiality that should prevail among the ordained clergy, the ministry of encouragement. Our role as pew sitters is to support our pastors. We of all people know the nature of the job. And out of that knowledge should come from us a great measure of appreciation for all they have to do. We should be praying for them regularly. We were once where they are and were blessed with elder teachers, mentors, and friends.
I have learned these past few years that it is a difficult transition to go from being regularly in the pulpit for decades to finding oneself in the new role of congregant. It takes patience and humility.
But the thing we retired clergy have in common with the one who now leads our community in worship is worship itself, and the reality that pastor and people stand under the Word of God, and the grace and love that is proclaimed in it. And there is a blessing in being a worshipper without the responsibility of presiding, a chance to open oneself to God’s presence and power without having to wonder if the absent-minded reader will find the right lesson or whether the kids will be so sugared up that they will hijack your children’s message.
So sit back my friends and let the new kids on the block take their turn. As our brother Paul said to the church in Corinth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth.”
(I would give attribution to the cartoonist if I knew who they were. If you know let me know.)
(Update on the cartoon from Dave Macy:
“The cartoon appeared on a Church Pension Group (Episcopal Church) calendar. The cartoonist is The Rev. Jay Sidebotham. From this year’s calendar: “Fr. Sidebotham serves as rector of Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, Illinois. Before hearing a call to ordained ministry, he worked in New York in the fields of animation, illustration and advertising. (Some would say he is still working in advertising.) He is grateful not only for the opportunity that parish work affords to continue expressing himself through his drawing, but also for the abundant supply of cartoon material that emerges in parish life.””