Sep 132019

Please thank your pastor today

Thank your pastor

This past week a pastor commented to me how tired they were and how they are rarely if ever told thank you. I understand that feeling of tiredness and being unappreciated. I also understand how hard it is sometimes to feel so alone in a ministry field. Please take a moment to read this entire blog post. Your pastor’s life may depend on it.

I and my fellow pastors need you to understand a few things about how ministry works. Take a look at these numbers:

  • 72% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
  • 84% of pastors feel they are on call 24/7.
  • 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
  • 78% of pastors report having their vacation and personal time interrupted with ministry duties or expectations.
  • 35% of pastors report the demands of the church denies them from spending time with their family.
  • 66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves.
  • 57% of pastors believe they do not receive a livable wage.
  • 57% of pastors are unable to pay their bills.
  • 75% of pastors report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses have felt unqualified and discouraged as role of pastors at least one or more times in their ministry.
  • 52% of pastors feel overworked and cannot meet their church’s unrealistic expectations. 
  • 54% of pastors find the role of a pastor overwhelming.
  • 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once in the last year.
  • 35% of pastors battle depression or fear of inadequacy.
  • 26% of pastors report being over fatigued.
  • 28% of pastors report they are spiritually undernurished.
  • Over 50% of pastors state the biggest challenge is to recruit volunteers and encourage their members to change (living closer to God’s Word).
  • 70% of pastors report they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
  • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider to be a close friend.
  • 57% of pastors feel fulfilled but yet discouraged, stressed, and fatigued. 
  • 1 out of every 10 pastors will actually retire as a pastor. 

I know that is a lot of statistics, but I feel you need to hear what we go thru. On top of all those, the one thing I hear most from my fellow pastors is that they rarely are told thank you. It may seem like a really small thing, but trust me, it is huge to a pastor.

Right around the corner is Clergy Appreciation Month. We take the entire month of October as an opportunity to thank those clergy people who serve us in ways we do not fully understand every day. And yet, so many people fail to take time to thank their pastor.

Why not start now? Why not take a moment to thank your pastor?

If you would like to show your appreciation in other ways, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Say thank you to your pastor on a regular basis. This is the most simple way to show your gratitude.
  2. Give your pastor a gift. It can be something as small as a handwritten note telling them how thankful you are for them and how they impacted you in positive ways. Or it can be something as elaborate as a gift card to a nice Resturant or their favorite coffee spot.
  3. Donate to the church in their honor. Most pastors spend hours on top of hours worried about their church’s finances. You can help to alleviate that worry by donating and say thank you by doing it in their honor.
  4. Volunteer at church. Most pastor’s end up doing a lot of work at church because there are not enough hands to help. You can help lighten their load by volunteering to help in the parish. You can do something as simple as cleaning the bathrooms or refilling the paper towels. That is one less job your pastor has to do.

These are just a few simple ways you can show your gratitude. This will help to lift your pastor’s spirit and keep them from possibly burning out.

Please join me in celebrating Clergy Appreciation Month just a little early!

Jul 132018

Power made perfect in weakness

weakness

Last week I was struggling to come up with something to say. I spent days working myself to the bone and trying to avoid the elephant in the room. I was depressed and I was feeling very insecure about my abilities. My struggle was with my weakness. I cannot say that I am better this week, but I am trying to find my path through this struggle.

I know you are tired of hearing of my struggles. Everyone has their limits. I have been told time and time again that I need to stop talking about my brokenness and my struggles. However, Saint Paul did just that in last Sunday’s reading:

Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Saint Paul talked about his brokenness a lot. And he said that we find strength in our weakness. That God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

I talk about my brokenness not to puff myself up or to make people feel sorry for me. I speak about it so that others know the struggles I have gone through and they too can find hope. It is my desire to help people find hope even when they feel so hopeless.

So talk about your struggle. Share your brokenness with others. Yes, it makes you vulnerable and some may hurt you by rejecting you. But they did that to Jesus too:

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, “Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
Are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.

(Mark 6:1-6)

Let us move forward in proclaiming the love of God and showing his power through our weakness!

Jun 292018

My own battle with worry

Worry

I worry a lot. It is something that has plagued me for years. Don’t get me wrong, I have faith in God and faith in my church family. I just allow myself to worry about things I have no control over.

I think we all do that to a degree. We allow ourselves to envision the worse possible scenario for every situation. I know that this is my great curse. I always “prepare” myself for the worst possible outcome. This, of course, causes me to worry and takes a tremendous toll on my health.

I do this for a wide range of things too. A couple of weeks ago I had to leave an event early because I was sick. I should have left far earlier than I did, but I stayed because I was worried about what people would think or say about me. I consider all those people my friends and I have a great amount of respect for them. But I still worried about what they would say or think of me because I had to leave.

And a part of me still worries about it. You see, I have spent years of my life trying so very hard to earn people’s respect. I have always felt like I am inferior to everyone. I am the least educated of my friends and family. I am not as healthy as many of them are. I am broken and damaged. Even down to the fact that I suffer from PTSS and depression.

I allow all those things to bounce around in my head and convince me that I am not worthy of love or respect. And then comes the worry. What if I am not good enough? What if I say the wrong thing? Will I end up running everyone off because of my brokenness? What will happen if I cannot do all the things they can do or stay through all the events they need me to stay for? Will they still respect me, love me, want me around if I cannot be what I think they want me to be?

And then the race has begun. The great race in my own head. It keeps going and going until I am almost paralyzed with fear, worry, anxiety, and overwhelming sadness.

I speak about these things not to get sympathy, but so that you can understand the struggle that I and many others deal with on a daily basis. Pastor’s deal with depression and anxiety in record numbers. That is why so many quit and so many loose their faith. They cannot continue fighting the battle that wages within themselves.

Yes, I still worry. I am far from perfect. But I continue to fight everyday to improve. I try to be there for others despite my own struggles. But I am also learning that I must take time to care for me too. And I am working on that. I am going to take a day off every week. I may not return emails or phone calls on that day unless it is an emergency. And at some point, I may have to give up some of the organizations I work with now for my own health’s sake. (Not the church, but other civic organizations I volunteer with. )

I understand your struggle with worry and anxiety. And hopefully, if you do not experience worry and anxiety, maybe you at least understand the struggle many of us have with it after reading this.

The goal is to keep on keeping on and to rest from time to time so that we can keep on going!

And do not worry, I still love you just the way you are!

Jun 222018

Hate has no home at Saint Francis

Hate has no home here

Yesterday marked the beginning of my twentieth (20) year since I was consecrated as a Bishop. It also marked my 39th revolution around the sun. In all that time, I have never seen the kind of hatred, bigotry, and racism that I have seen in the last couple of years. And this week, that hatred, bigotry, and racism touched our sister parish in Flourtown, PA.

Bishop St George, the pastor of Saint Miriam Parish arrived at the parish to find the parish had been vandalized. They had damaged one of the Saint Francis statues and torn up the “Hate has no home here” sign. It is sad that someone destroyed a sign calling for an end to hate because of the hate in their heart. They destroyed a statue of the saint who said, “Let me be an instrument of your peace.”

This person had so much hate in their heart that they could not see the great irony of their actions. They could not see that they were damaging the very church who would welcome them into the fold with open arms and not condemn them for their past.

At Saint Francis we have seen our share of hate. I get hate mail on a regular basis. I even had someone advocate for branding other human beings by tattooing their crimes and sins on their foreheads. And sadly, they did this in the middle of Mass, right in the middle of my homily on forgiveness!

We have allowed hate to overrun our society and it is creeping into our churches. We as a church have a moral obligation to stop it. It is our responsibility to call it out, to shine the light on it wherever it resides. Sometimes we have to turn away people who damage those seeking refuge in the church. It does not mean that we love them any less, it does not mean that we hate them. No, it means that we must protect those in our flock from the hatred and bigotry that resides in them. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5 Saint Paul tells us that sometimes we have to remove those who are disruptive and dangerous to the church as a whole.

We will continue to love them from afar and to pray for them. Even those who vandalize and damage our parishes. But we cannot give hate a home in our parishes. This is why we have the Covenant at Saint Francis. It is a pledge to build up the community while leaving behind the hatred, bigotry, and damaging behavior that we have all experienced in other churches.

And at Saint Francis we will continue to love everyone while still protecting the body of Christ from hate and violence.

Jun 152018

Change is needed

Change

The world seems to have gone crazy lately. In fact, many people seem willing to exchange the truth for a lie and to exchange compassion for hatred, bigotry, and violence. Change is considered to be a dirty word, and yet, change is exactly what we need!

We have been warned throughout Scripture that such times would come. Many people think that these are the end times, but I believe we are merely at the end of an age. We are at a point where the pendulum will swing back to a more compassionate and caring place.

That said, we must be willing to be the instruments of change in the world around us. We cannot bury our head in the sand and expect things to improve on their own. Throughout history good men and women chose to hide their eyes from the horrors around them. And by doing so they, at very least, allowed bad things to happen, and at worst, approved of those acts.

For years I have preached about walking the middle of the road and now I see now the error of that teaching. By walking the middle of the road, I have allowed the evil the world to triumph. Rather than walk the middle of the road, we need to be willing to speak up against the horror of hate, bigotry, anger, and violence that has taken over our society.

Make no mistake, you will loose friends and family if you choose to speak up. People will label you as a troublemaker or worse. They even treated Jesus this way. Everyone abandoned Jesus. You are in good company.

Now is the time to stand up. It is time to stop hiding from the darkness and to confront it. It is time to live our faith. And our faith calls us to love others, to take in the stranger and refugee. Today is the day to be Christ to the world!

And if that cost me everything, I will give it all up to serve others and to follow my Christ!

Jun 082018

Suicide

I had started writing this week’s blog post when a notification popped up on my phone. My stomach sank as I read that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. This after reading earlier in the week that fashion designer Kate Spade had also committed suicide.

So I threw away what I had written and decided to try again.

Many people say that these people had so much going for them. They were rich, famous, well-liked, and had many friends to support them. Why did they kill themselves? Others will claim that if only they had more faith, more love, more strength, more courage, they would not have killed themselves. And then there will be those who will say they took the cowards way out or that they were only being selfish.

All of that is crap.

I tried to kill myself as a teen. I have had thoughts of suicide throughout my life. And I can tell you that it was not because I lacked faith. It was not because I was not strong or courageous. It was because I had come to the end of my strength. I had come to the end of courage. And I believed that I would see God and that maybe, just maybe he would be merciful to me and let me into heaven.

I was tired of being abused. Rape and sexual assault had left me a shell of who I had been. I had no hope that life would improve. And when I dared to speak up, no one would listen or believe me. I was strong, but even that strength had its limits.

And to those who say I was being selfish, I was not. I believed that others would be better if I was not around. Society had convinced me that my struggles were a burden to others. I was left feeling like I had caused the abuse, rape, sexual molestation, and that everyone would be better off if I was not here. I was not suicidal because I was being selfish, I felt it was the ultimate sacrifice for others.

It is not being selfish, but it is also not going to help others either. Having to help families cope with the loss of a loved one who killed themselves has shown me the other side of those situations. Families are left in despair. They realize, all too late, that they missed the warning signs. Guilt consumes them. And then there are the questions about how they could let their loved one die. There are the condemning looks.

And even that is not fair.

That is why more and more people need to speak up about their struggles. That is why, as pastors, we share our brokenness with others. And yes, you may get tired of hearing us talk about how broken we are. But if it helps one person find the help they need, if it saves one person from killing themselves, then I will speak about my brokenness night and day!

After all, that is what I am called to do. That is what you are called to do.

My struggle is not over. And the struggles of my brothers and sisters who wear the collar are not over. Our struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of worthlessness may never end. It is my commitment  to do whatever I can to help others through their struggles and to find the help they need. And in a way, helping them helps me. It helps me find peace with my lot in life.

So, what can you do to help those of us who struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of worthlessness?

BE THERE. Be present to us. You don’t have to say a word. Just listen. Be a shoulder to cry on. Invite us to dinner. Ask us to join you for lunch. See if we want to go to the mall.

BE PREPARED. There are many resources that you can find to help those who need it. Carry the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number in your phone. Have business cards printed up with the help line numbers on them. I am planning (when I can afford to) to have new business cards made for the parish. On the back, I will have the Lifelines listed.

BE LOVING. Be ready to give them a hug. Just pick up the phone and call someone for no reason. Send them a message on Facebook or via their phone that just says you love them. And understand that sometimes they may not respond right away. Your message of love, your call, just knowing you are there and you care, could mean the difference between life and death.

AND DO NOT BE AFRAID. If you feel someone is in immediate danger of committing suicide, DO NOT hesitate to call the police or EMS. They may be angry at you for calling for help, but in the long run, they will thank you for caring enough to reach out for help. They may not be able to reach out, you might have to reach out for them.

At the end of the day, a person may still end their life. As a Bishop, as a Christian, let me make this very clear: Suicide is NOT a guaranteed ticket to Hell. NO WHERE in the Bible does it say that if you kill yourself you will go to Hell. The church for many centuries was wrong and caused so many people hurt and pain when they needed love and compassion. But if your loved one has committed suicide, God understands what they were going through and in his mercy, he will grant them peace and joy in his kingdom.

If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask. We have a new page here at our website that give you resources that can help you through your struggles.

Please know that God loves you and so do we!

Jun 022018

Dark and Light

Dark

They say the night is darkest right before the dawn. Given the struggles I have experienced in my life, I believe this to be true. But the dark can never truly overcome the light.

The last two weeks have been difficult. Today is day 16 of my life without my pain medication and my anti-depressants. The worst of the withdraw is behind me. And now I begin the process of finding my new normal. It has been tough, and the last week has been the darkest by far. But now the light is beginning to shine over the horizon.

One the interesting parts of the journey through PTSS and depression has been the rediscovery of my emotions. This means that I am experiencing a full range of emotions where in the past I had a rather muted range of emotions. That process of discovering my new emotions and normalizing them can take months or even years.

Father Rick reminded me today that in life “sorrow and joy walk side by side.” This is so true. We cannot experience light without the darkness. Sorrow helps us understand joy. Unrest helps us know peace. And doubt helps us know what true faith is all about.

When life is its darkest, we must remember that Christ is right there with us. He experienced all the pain, sorrow, frustration, joy, peace, love, and even darkness that we do. Christ comes to us in the moments to walk with us and provide us with the strength and love we need to survive and flourish.

And the church is here to provide you with the support and love you need to move forward. Without my brothers and sisters in the church (especially my fellow clergy in the OCCI) I would not have made it this far. It is our goal to provide a church family where you can find strength, love and support through the struggles of life.

Come and experience a different way to be Catholic!

May 252018

Life can be hard

life

Life can be hard. At times it seems like no matter how hard we try, things remain difficult. As a clergy person, I experience people at the worst moments in their lives. And sometimes that occurs when I am dealing with a difficult time myself.

God did not promise that life would be easy. In fact, we see story after story in scripture about how difficult life can be. Matter of fact, the entire book of Job is one long story about how difficult life is. Job was a man that worked hard to follow God. And still he suffered from some very sad and disturbing things. He lost his family, his money, his possessions, and then his health.

Despite it all, he did not give up. Yes, he felt upset, angry, and even depressed. But he never walked away from God. He trusted that God would bring him through all these sorrows to a better day.

We are called on to stand firm on our faith even in the darkest moments of our lives. You are not alone in your struggles. Too often, people think that they are alone and that no one understand what they are going through. But that is wrong. So many people struggle everyday too. We must not isolate ourselves, but instead, we need to reach out to those around us for encouragement and strength in these difficult times.

And the church can be an outlet to help you through those times. We are not perfect people, which means that we have been through similar things to what you have been through. It is our hope that we can be there to help you through your struggles too.

And together we can work toward a brighter day!

May 182018
Pentecost

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. Pentecost is called the birthday of the church. It is the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. The coming of the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the courage and strength to preach the Gospel to all people.

We continue this mission to this day. We work to bring the message of the love of God to all people. And in doing so, we work to build a church where all people can come together and worship God in “spirit and truth”. (John 4:24) In doing so, we also recognize that we are broken and weak people. That is why we strive not to judge those who worship with us.

Lately, people seem to be judging each other more and more. It is almost like it has become a national pastime! We forget that we are not perfect and that we too have skeletons in our closets. It is like we have forgotten that when we point our fingers at others that we have 3 fingers pointing back at us!

Our calling is to love all people. It is not our place to judge them. And when it comes to our clergy, we need to remember that they are human too. They make mistakes, they are not perfect, and they too are broken. I have seen so many people attacking clergy because they are human. When did clergy become perfect? When did we stop being human beings? I want to know, because I missed that memo!

If you want a perfect clergy person, a perfect church, or a perfect friend or spouse, then disappointment is around the corner. There was only one person who walked this earth that was perfect. And people hated him so much they crucified him. This proves that even if we got what we wanted, the perfect person as a cleric, friend, or spouse, we would likely hurt them and leave them.

It is time for us to stop expecting perfection from those around us and to accept that we are all human beings. The time has come to love those around us without preconditions. It is time for us to start living the Gospel instead of being hypocrites.

If you want an authentic church with broken people who love unconditionally, then come visit us at Saint Francis!

May 112018

Love is our only commandment

love

We have struggled for many years now trying to build up a parish here in the Augusta, GA area. It is even harder to build one based on love rather than judgement! It has been a long and difficult road and I cannot thank those who come to our parish enough for giving us a chance. I wish more people would give us a chance!

Here is the thing, we are trying hard to build a parish where everyone is loved and respected. We want you to feel safe and loved in our parish. This is not an easy thing to do, especially in our world today. But we believe that we are on the right track to do just that.

Saint Francis is about building a place where you can be you and find God through the Sacraments without judgement. We believe that God creates all people uniquely and that we should respect the spark of the Divine in each and every person. It is not our place to judge you. It is our job to love you!

However, all too often the church allows itself to fall into this place of judgement. People judge others based on who they love, where they came from, the color of their skin, their gender, their social or economic status, or other arbitrary statuses. They forget that we are called to love, without judgement and without conditions.

We must not forget that Saint John tells us, “And this is his commandment: that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23 CPDV) He does not say that we should only love those who love us or fit into our acceptable mold. No, Saint John tells us to love one another. It is not a suggestion, but a commandment!

As a result, the time for judgement is over. We must start living the commandment of Christ, “For the first commandment of all is this: ‘Listen, O Israel. The Lord your God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from your whole mind, and from your whole strength. This is the first commandment.’ But the second is similar to it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 CPDV)

Join us at Saint Francis as we strive to build a church based on these two commandments.

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