Word Magazine July 1958 Page 6/8
THE MODERN PARISH PRIEST
By The Rev James H. C. Allan
Pastor St John’s Church, Cedar Rapids Iowa
There are a number of musty jokes and anecdotes about the “soft” life and the “one-day-a-week” workweek of the parish priest. Surprisingly enough many otherwise intelligent people put stock in such nonsense. It comes as a very rude shock to these people to read articles, like the recent feature story in Life magazine, which reveals that priests and other clergymen now have a higher percentage of heart attacks, nervous breakdowns, ulcers and other occupational ailments, than almost every other trade and profession. The “pressures” under which the modern parish priest functions, these documented articles disclose, are unequaled anywhere.
Years ago, of course, parish priests had less to do. The demands upon them were fewer and less complex. Life moved at a slower tempo and even the most energetic priest moved with the times.
Today, all this is changed. As has been brought out in Life magazine and other publications, the modern parish priest is expected to be a man of prayer, a dispenser of Sacraments and sacramentals, a teacher, a preacher, a counselor, a confessor, an administrator, chief custodian of church property and equipment, a correspondent, a fund raiser, a public speaker, a publicist and all-around organizer.
What, precisely, does the priest do in the course of an average week? Whether “big parish” or “small parish,” most priests put in a full day’s work seven days a week. The big-city parish priest will have to make more sick calls and other pastoral visitations than his small-parish colleague. He has more meetings to attend and more activities to direct. However, the small-parish priest has no office help and, often, no regular janitor service. The priest of the small parish will, then, do all the paper work, mimeographing, etc. and will be seen, on occasion, on the “business end” of a snow shovel, broom or lawn mower.
All modern parish priests must devote time to prayer. This is in addition to corporate worship in the church (i.e., the Divine Liturgy, Orthros, Vespers, etc.) Most Orthodox priests read Orthros or portions thereof, each morning. They have regular devotions at night, too. Daily reading of Holy Scripture is on their agenda, as is the daily allocation of time for “mental prayer” or meditation.
A modern parish priest must study. His study may be in the “ theological” field (i.e. Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, Scripture, Church History, Liturgies, Homiletics, Canon Law, Apologetics, etc.), or, as is often the case, the priest reads or does research in the fields of History, Philosophy, Psychiatry, Political Science, Economics, etc. Many priests do extension or correspondence study or are candidates for advanced university degrees. The Priest’s preaching, teaching and public speaking commitments are such as to make it mandatory that he be informed in these matters. The priest’s reading must also include topical or current affairs. He has to keep “up-to-date.” In countless conversations with his own people and with persons outside the parish, the modern parish priest must be able to converse with both confidence and intelligence.
A staggering amount of “paper work” faces the average pastor of today. Most priests are relatively good typists: they have to be. God help them if they had to order church materials, carry on parochial and diocesan correspondence and get out reminder cards, pastoral letters, bulletins, etc. by “hand.” The skeptical layman should check the annual parish expenditure for postage, letterheads, envelopes, etc. This substantial figure is a small indication of the administrative duties of the modern priest.
“Church” is not just a Sunday and Holyday situation anymore. The activities of the modern parish are three and four times that of a quarter or half century ago. The children are instructed at least once a week in Sunday School programs or weekday catechetical sessions. Altar boys receive systematic instruction. Organizations for teenage youth and for young married couples, function in most parishes. The choir is rehearsed at least once weekly. Some priests carry on adult education or “inquirers’ classes,” open to Orthodox weekday “Released Time” programs. There are also Trustee meetings, men’s meetings, ladies guild meetings and many others. All these meetings and activities mean work for the parish priest. Long hours go into the planning and execution of good parish activities. Indeed, after these activities have been worked out on a yearly basis, there must be preparation for individual meetings and sessions. Many hours of hard work are “behind” each and every parish function.
All recent articles about the modern parish situation, hit one ominous note: the effect of these many responsibilities and commitments upon the physical, mental and spiritual health of the pastor. A priest has received God’s Grace by his ordination at the hands of his bishop. Spiritually, ecclesiastically and socially, he is a “man apart.” But the priest is still a human being, not some sort of machine, devoid of feelings and without limitations.
Medical statistics reveal the frightening number of “breakdowns,” heart attacks, ulcers, etc. suffered by clergymen. But, short of that, there is no statistical way of tabulating the mental and physical fatigue the modern parish priest knows after a 14-15 hour day of trying to maintain peace and progress in his parish. Nor is there some sort of “yardstick” to measure the acute disappointment and discouragement a man knows when, in his many efforts and attempts, he encounters indifference, apathy and, sometimes, hostility.
The modern parish priest does not expect to ride the “gravy train.” He expects to work — and work hard. He does not expect to be paid a salary commensurate with his four years (or more) of college and three years of theological preparation. If he wanted “big money,” he would get into private industry where, by virtue of his training and ability, he could draw a much larger salary. The modern priest is, in most cases, willing to be and willing to do all things people expect him to be and do in this age. However, he doesn’t expect to carry the whole parish on his back! Certainly, there would be infinitely fewer “occupational casualties” among parish priests if their people would “push” instead of “pull” (away) and if, in the matter of the “extra” jobs left to the priest, the people would roll up their sleeves and give their priest a helping hand.