But on with the topic of respect…
In my previous post (Respect, part 1), I offered some reflections on respect in the context of the residential schools issue, and the hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As I was writing, I began recalling times in my ministry when I felt that I was not being treated with respect — and also times when I did not treat others respectfully. I have already blogged about one of them, and I don’t feel any need for further comment on that event.
There’s no need to rehearse old hurts, especially when some of them go back 25 years or more. I have striven to forgive people who have hurt me, and have sought to seek forgiveness for hurts I have inflicted. The past is past: let it be. As it has been said,Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.
We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. One of the things I have learned in parish ministry is that parishioners don’t all deal with clergy in the same way. Some see clergy as “the help,” there to do the parish’s bidding, endlessly available to do whatever people ask. At the other pole are the people who put clergy on a pedestal, deferring to them as holy people with hotline to heaven. Neither position is truly respectful, seeing the cleric only in terms of the office, without really seeing the person in that office.
Clergy who are seen as hired hands become dispensable in their people’s eyes. When things aren’t going well — toss the chump! I’ve seen this happen to a number of colleagues. Everyone gets hurt, church and cleric alike, because the motivation is power, not love and respect.
Clergy on pedestals can only do one thing, and that’s fall off. We are human, and no human can ever fully live up to the exalted standard that others project on him or her. Clergy who allow themselves to be thus exalted are only setting themselves up for a fall. The fall can be long and hard. Again, I’ve seen this with some colleagues, some of whose egos and forceful personalities did not allow them to see that they could do any wrong.
Can we say that clergy who persist in either of these behaviour patterns respect neither their congregations nor themselves?
A healthy congregation-cleric relationship is based on mutual respect: valuing everyone’s gifts, acknowledging legitimate authority, accepting each other for who and what they are. The church’s prime message is one of love, God’s “steadfast love” (hesed) as in the Hebrew Scriptures, agapé as in the New Testament. We do best by each other, both lay and clergy, when we live what we preach.