Pastoring our Pastors in Time of Pandemic

Need for Pastoral Care of the Clergy

I know the word ‘pastoring’ doesn’t really exist, but I wish it did because it expresses something we are apt to forget. Those to whom we look for pastoral care are themselves in need of care and support. Throughout this pandemic we have heard a lot from parishioners who are sad or unhappy at the way in which some clergy have seemed unresponsive to their needs, especially during periods of lockdown or church closure. As one disgruntled man remarked, ‘They think they have done enough by becoming third-rate movie stars with their live-streamed Masses and what not.’ I daresay some have; but most haven’t. They have tried to be good and dutiful priests in a situation none of us has met before. A few have been blessed with the imagination and creativity to meet the new circumstances positively, but many more have struggled and one or two have been utterly crushed by the experience.

Some clergy have felt abandoned by their bishops and left to soldier on, not sure what to do for the best. They have been burdened with an extra load of admin at the very time when those they chiefly rely on to help — mainly more senior members of the parish, who may well be shielding because of age or infirmity — are not available. They live alone; some admit to being close to breaking-point, others cannot bring themselves to articulate their feelings of loneliness and discouragement. For them celebration of the Holy Mysteries is not the only aspect of priesthood that gives joy and purpose to their lives. They miss the interaction with people. More than one has confessed that, being naturally shy and without the ‘excuse’ that coffee after Mass or regular parish meetings of one kind or another provide, they are becoming more and more isolated.

Wrap and Throw Service

Happily, this is where the brotherhood of the priesthood takes on fresh meaning and importance. It has been heartening to learn of the support received from friendly ‘phone calls and video meetings with fellow priests; but it isn’t enough. Here at the monastery we do our best to listen non-judgementally and sympathetically to those who feel the need to unburden themselves of the distress they feel. I hope we manage to reassure them that they are not letting the side down or being a failure because they are not exercising their priesthood in ways familiar to them. We try to give encouragement. In the monastery we refer to this as our ‘Wrap and Throw Service’, meaning we do our best to wrap those who come to us in the love of God and throw them back into their parishes to minister to others. But again, it isn’t enough.

The Role of Parishioners

The people best placed to support the clergy through this time of pandemic are their parishioners. Yes, you! The bishop can only do so much; fellow priests and monasteries can only do so much; but you are there. You know your priest in a way no one else does. It does not take much time to send a friendly email asking how he is and saying you miss seeing him on a regular basis. A word of thanks and appreciation for what he is doing to meet the needs of the parish will never go amiss. An offer of help may be warmly received. Who can tell? Pastoring our pastors isn’t a difficult art. It simply requires a warm heart and the ability to see the human person wearing the collar — someone just as much in need of encouragement as we are ourselves.

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