Every Sunday I pray for our clergy in the Iowa Annual Conference as well as for clergy and religious leaders around the world. Answering God’s call to be a spiritual leader is one of the most difficult, gratifying, and terrifying challenges I can imagine. Our clergy in Iowa are amazingly gifted and committed.
I loved and admired all of the pastors I had growing up. No, they weren’t perfect. No pastor is. However, they led my congregation with vision, compassion, skill, spiritual depth, and great love. That’s why you might want to know that this coming Sunday, October 14, is Clergy Appreciation Day. In case you didn’t realize it, you’ve already missed some important days in October:
- National Homemade Cookies Day October 1
- National Custodial Workers Recognition Day October 2
- National Walk to School Day October 3
- National Taco Day October 4
- World Smile Day October 5
- National Noodle Day October 6
- Bald and Free Day October 7
I admit that I have never put much stock in days that promote special causes, even if they are worthy. I even recoil from Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s not that I don’t love my parents. I just don’t want to be manipulated by businesses and organizations that stand to profit from money I might spend recognizing loved ones that I should be honoring every day, not just one day a year.
The Sept./Oct. 1996 issue of the Saturday Evening Post related the origins of Clergy Appreciation Day. “In 1992, layperson Jerry Frear Jr. was brainstorming with church colleagues about how they might be of help to their minister when he glanced at a calendar and noticed that it was almost Groundhog Day. ‘I thought, if they have a day for groundhogs, there ought to be a day for the 375,000 clergy people in America.’”
All comparisons between groundhogs and pastors aside, some churches do have a tradition of honoring their clergy on the second Sunday in October. In fact, the New Testament contains a number of references to honoring pastoral leaders.
“Remember your leaders who spoke God’s word to you. Imitate their faith
as you consider the way their lives turned out.” Hebrews 13:7 CEB
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor,
especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” I Timothy 5:17 NRSV
Like most pastors, Gary and I have been the beneficiaries of numerous thoughtful gifts from parishioners over the years. I will admit that we regifted the fruitcake and have had a difficult time finding places to display pastor mugs, pen sets, angels, and all manner of crosses. However, it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the many expressions of love that have sustained us over the years. Several hundred Monday night meals brought to our house, gift certificates to restaurants, invitations to get away for a few days at a parishioner’s cottage, Christmas cookies and fudge, offers of child care, and many prayers when our family was in crisis. We didn’t deserve any of it, but we have been deeply appreciative.
There are four extraordinary gifts, however, that I have treasured the most over 37 years of ministry, and they have nothing to do with things.
- I treasure the gift of verbal and written expressions of gratitude. I keep them all. Nothing is more encouraging, inspiring, or affirming than knowing that you have had a positive impact on someone else’s life. Why is it that something as easy as saying “thank you” happens so seldom? I stopped buying gifts for my parents many years ago. Instead, on important holidays, I usually wrote them letters, thanking my parents for raising me in a Christian home, modeling unconditional love, and going to church as a family every Sunday without fail. Why don’t you take a few minutes this week to thank someone, including your pastor?
© 2018 by Conception Abbey
- I treasure the gift of honest, gentle feedback. Each one of our lives is a journey of growth in grace, spiritual depth, self-awareness, and skills. Like all people, pastors feel good when they are affirmed. But it’s equally as helpful for our personal and professional development when lay persons feel comfortable challenging us. I am grateful to everyone who has, in a grace-filled way, identified areas of growth in my life.
- I treasure the gift of being invited into the most significant events of a person’s life. Births, deaths, baptisms, weddings, confirmations, funerals, graduations, and crises of all sorts: what a humbling privilege it is to be entrusted with pastoral care and represent Christ. Even when pastors cannot offer answers to life’s most difficult questions, we can offer the simple presence of a hug, a tear, or a prayer.
- The greatest gift I have ever received from church members is their openness to be trained, equipped, shaped, nurtured, and empowered for ministry and leadership. This is the ultimate gift:
- Seeing people who never grew up in the church develop a deep faith through Bible Study
- Hearing children, youth, and adults pray in public for the first time
- Observing the excitement of church members as they discover their spiritual gifts and give themselves away in service
- Watching laity grow in confidence as they visit in homes and hospitals
- Identifying future leaders, providing tools for their faith development, nurturing their skills, and then releasing them to lead
- Hearing the words, “I think God is calling me into the professional ministry”
- Witnessing the miracle of a life transformed by an encounter with Jesus Christ
There is plenty of time left to appreciate your pastor because October is also Clergy AppreciationMonth. You could even combine your celebration with:
- National Grouch Day October 15
- National Chocolate Cupcake Day October 18
- National Mole Day October 23
- Haunted Refrigerator Night October 30
My only advice: Skip the fruitcake, hold back the fudge (we clergy are still carrying the extra pounds!), and go make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Every day is Clergy Appreciation Day when you remind your pastor that he/she is a beloved child of God who is called out for set-apart ministry. Thank you for loving and supporting your pastor.
P.S. The next Leading from the Heart will be published on Monday, October 22. On October 15, I will be with a mission team from Iowa at Africa University in Zimbabwe.