Saturday, August 24, 2013

Episode Eleven: Grown-Up Pastor Tears

Tomorrow I will preside over the memorial service of a 20 year old student of mine.  It will not be my first funeral.  I have had the honor of leading several services that celebrate the life and mourn the loss of our loved ones.

However, it is the first time I have said goodbye to a young person. A 20 year old man with his whole, beautiful, beloved-child-of-God, life in front of him.  And it's the first time I have prepared a sermon text, knowing the whole time--as I wrote it, proof-read it, and printed it out--that I will most likely weep as I stand behind the pulpit and seek to proclaim the word of God.

Somewhere along the line I convinced myself that grown-up pastors don't cry; real pastors shouldn't shed tears. Perhaps it is the subliminal messages of a larger culture that doesn't always celebrate emotion, or maybe it is the internalized, deeply sexist expectation I feel to be a "real pastor" (aka to be something that resembles the male pastor figures I knew as a child and a young adult).

Last night, anxious that I might cry as I offered my sermon, I posted a message on the Facebook wall of The Young Clergy Women Project.  It's an organization I'm proud to serve as a member of its board.  It connects women who are ordained and under the age of 40 and is over 900 members strong.

I posted a message asking for techniques: how do you handle tears, how can you stop them, when you're preaching?  Real pastors don't cry after all.

Within an hour, over 20 women, from all across this world of ours, responded to my Facebook post and offered me their wise, wise words.  I did get the tips and techniques for managing tears I was hoping for (stop for a minute, think of yourself as a third person who is watching it all happen, clear your throat or cough).  More importantly though, I was reminded that grown-up pastors, real pastors, do, in fact, cry:

from the incredible, oh-so-rooted, Rev. Maria Bergius Krämer
"Sweetie, cry away. Now, and if you have to, then. It's ok. Death stinks and should be mourned. If it gets too much, take a short break. It's ok."

and words from another CC(DOC) sister, Rev. Katherine Willis Pershey
"I let go of my anxiety about it, and my fear that it will somehow make people think less of me...I trust that for most people, the pastor crying is a freeing thing - an affirmation of the depth of sadness we experience as human beings, even as we are also the ones who proclaim hope."

Tomorrow evening I may very well weep behind the pulpit.  Make no mistake, I will use the tips and techniques so generously offered and pull myself together. I will make it through my sermon.  But, because of these strong, generous, called, dedicated, loving colleagues of mine,  because of this organization I am privileged to be a part of and privileged to serve, I will know that even in the tears, even with (and I do hope not) the snot, I am-in fact-a real, true blue, grown-up pastor. 

Because sometimes real pastors, grown-up pastors, cry. 

All quotes cited with permission.

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