(Prospect) Alice Goodman–Clerical life: Curing clergy burnout

The model and justification of most holidays taken by clergy is Jesus’s custom of going to a deserted place to pray. “He did it: you should too.” From the earliest centuries, Christianity had its contemplative side; these stories are its foundation.

Before that, though, there’s the account of the flight of the Prophet Elijah from the vengeance of Jezebel in the 19th chapter of the first book of Kings. This is the model of clergy burnout. An angel gives him a hot cake baked on a stone, and lets him sleep. Then, when he wakes, he is offered another cake, and sleeps again. Only after that does he go up to the mountain of God where the Lord speaks to him, not in the sound of gale or earthquake, but in sheer silence, the echoing silence when the wind and the earthquake have passed. In that silence, God tells Elijah that there will be a new king, and also that there will be a new prophet, because more people have been faithful than Elijah is willing to credit.

That’s a favourite story of mine, as is the one told by the reclusive 19th-century Hasidic sage Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk, better known as the Kotzker Rebbe. It concerns the sacred goat whose horns reached up to the heavens. As he walked through the world, the goat heard a poor old man crying. “Why do you weep?” asked the goat. “Because I have lost my snuffbox.” “Cut a bit from one of my horns,” said the goat, “Take what you need to make a new one.” You can guess what happened next. There are more poor folk in the world who have lost their snuff boxes than you can count.

Read it all.


Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Stress, Theology