Monday, October 6, 2014

The priesthood in a nutshell

I was told a story recently about a priest who drove up to his new rectory with his wife only to find some members of the parish council waiting for him with folded arms standing in the driveway. The priest greeted them warmly and was told in response flatly, "Oh, we're not here to help you move. We're just here to watch." And that's just what they did.

Another priest friend of mine moved into his rectory and immediately asked for help repainting his daughter's bedroom. The paint was flaking off and by the age of the house it was most certainly lead-based. She was a toddler and eating paint was not an impossibility. He was ignored on that and numerous other basic requests (exterminators, sufficient A/C to cool the house, etc.) so that he was expected to be prepared and energized on Sunday while he lived in a sweltering, cockroach-infested house with no hope of any assistance to make repairs. He walked out of that rectory and that parish and they still don't have a priest.

Yet another friend of mine went immediately from seminary to a suburban parish that was in earnest preparation for breaking ground on a beautiful new church complex with plenty of volunteers for every project and people ready to donate whatever he might need (vestments, litija tray, books). His rectory is comfortable and just a block away from his church.

All of these stories are the priesthood. Being a priest is hard and often thankless - you are often expected to live a perfect life and grow the parish but aren't always given the time or tools to make it happen. When you are given the tools you need there is the chance you'll face criticism for being "pampered" for "working only one day a week." At the same time you, as the priest, are expected to turn the other cheek to all the gossip and mistreatment so that your private live is now walled off almost completely from your parish work in order to maintain your marriage and your sanity.

I have some parishioners that always leave church saying they'll pray for me this week. Some Sundays it's hard not to kiss them in gratitude.

The below is from the blog The Life of Faith and is a post entitled "The Bad Priest."

Yesterday’s Liturgy was awful! The priest didn’t seem to care. He kept chewing his words, said the prayers in haste, and was barely audible. You’d think a priest would put his heart and soul into the Liturgy, but clearly he is a cleric who got ordained for all the wrong reasons. His sermon was poor too. He read from a text and his delivery was dull, probably because he didn’t write it, and moreover because he didn’t practice or even believe in what he was preaching. Shameful! Priests work only one day a week, and they can’t be bothered to do even that. I don’t know why they bother!

This, in a nutshell, was the conversation that went on between a couple of members of that priest’s church on Monday.

The morning before the Sunday Liturgy, the priest led a three-hour service, and then rushed to the hospital to see a dying patient and give him Holy Communion. After a brief chat with the relatives, he began to make his way out of the hospital when an Orthodox family spotted him and invited him to see their relative also, so he went back in, and after praying for the patient, he sat with the family for a short while to talk with them. He then hastened back to the church for a wedding, followed by a confession. By 4.00 p.m., the priest realised he hadn’t eaten anything all day. He quickly made a cup of coffee and snatched some biscuits from the cupboard before getting to work on the parish bulletin and preparation for Sunday’s sermon. After half an hour of work interrupted by phone calls, a young couple came to arrange their wedding. In addition to the usual paperwork, the priest took the couple through the service and its meaning and what Christian Orthodox marriage is about. About fifteen minutes later, a middle-aged man came to arrange for instruction in the Orthodox faith in preparation for baptism. Then it was time for vespers, which was followed by a bible study, after which came a young woman who was suffering from acute depression, and so the priest sat with her for the next thirty minutes. Finally, at 9.00 p.m., the priest was locking up to go home. After making a swift visit to the supermarket, including something for the cold that was plaguing him, he got home, fixed a bite to eat, took his medication for the severe depression that he has been battling with for years, and tried to get some sleep, but he just couldn’t switch off.

He woke on Sunday morning after only a couple of hours of disturbed sleep feeling sick, famished and spent. Nonetheless, he looked forward to the Liturgy. And however difficult things get, at least he has a congregation that appreciates all his hard work and dedication, right?


  1. I've run into this on the Catholic side of things for years. Having several priests who were dear friends before their Ordination (and have remained so since), has given me a great deal of perspective.

  2. A decade or so ago, I took to sympathetically pointing out to friends who are priests, and to priests who are friends, and, really, to any priest that I might have the opportunity to speak with in this way, that I have no doubt that they have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

    Behind and along with all the personal and physical demands, as outlined well in this post, there's the fact that every.single.person he comes in contact with, every hour of every day, brings a set of expectations to the interaction -- many of the expectations highly elevated, many shaped by personal histories and cultural context that may be only imperfectly understood by the priest. And when he doesn't act in accord with these expectations, in even the smallest way, the parishioner or visitor or enquirer or person in need experiences that as a failure -- failure of the priest, failure of the Church, failure of God Himself ... not exactly a low-pressure environment!