— Mihee Kim-Kort (@miheekimkort) January 29, 2016
My conversations with colleagues and would-be colleagues keep going back to why we do what we do – what sustains us, what roots us, what keeps us showing up every week. Whether it’s with college students or octogenarians, middle class suburbanites or the working poor, it’s a beautiful, but real struggle. I read about #realacademicbios started by Eva Mroczek on Friday morning. In the afternoon Elizabeth posted a thread starting #realpreachbios in the closed TYCWP Facebook group and so I said, “Let’s take this over to Twitter.” (Mihee)
We did a thing on Twitter. #realclergybios started on Friday and is still trending here Sunday night.
— Elizabeth (@elizabethlgr) January 29, 2016
I never remember how I’ve started reading threads on Twitter. It’s a black hole of touchscreen clicks, one face to one sentence to one hashtag and then an hour later you have to leave to pick your kid up from school. Somehow I stumbled on #realacademicbios, alternately grinning and grimacing at the 140 character flashes of truth telling. It occurred to me there was plenty to mine in that vein, but ministers would have different experiences to share. It’s not polite to hijack someone else’s hashtag. So I shared with my YCW friends and Mihee deftly edited and then something unexpected was born. (Elizabeth)
Like any professional bio the clergy bios found on church websites include the glossy and shiny. But what would happen if we took away the polish? Besides getting a glimpse into the “odd and wondrous,” the sad, but true hilarity of clergy life, we got an inkling of the varied ways the clergy vocation is lived out:
A huge number of tweets expressed struggle with the familiar imposter syndrome.
It doesn’t matter what the education or experience, what seminary or school, what denomination or degree. It’s the feeling that people will figure out we don’t know shit about the universe much less the polity of our institutions, and for some reason – maybe the whole “Master” of Divinity degree sets up high expectations – in the context of church and ministry this is a terrifying prospect.
After I had my son, I shared with my mother that I felt vastly underprepared to maintain the life of another human being. She told me that would never change. “Your dad and I used to ask each other, ‘when are the grownups going to show up and do this for us?’ With horror, we realized the grownups were us.” Every time I stand in front of my congregation to preach, “the grownups were us” echoes in me, and, it seems, with clergy from every continent and tradition. But who can we tell? Each other, it turns out. (Elizabeth)
Of course, many of the tweets that communicated this sentiment were clergywomen, but sometimes it was less about being “found out,” and way more about the struggle with not being seen as credible and authoritative from the get-go.
Even though churches are communal and rely on shared leadership, most are still centralized around the clergy. Despite this, clergy are often beset with major loneliness and isolation.
Remember that line from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “the hopes and fears of all the years”? Clergy folks end up carrying those for their congregations, a gift and burden it is not possible to truly prepare for. We hold them, we cannot share them, and we try to shift the weight on the shoulders of our souls to carry on. But sometimes, the load feels too much to bear. (Elizabeth)
Sometimes, we are lonely.
Reading through #realacademicbios felt familiar. Issues of privilege and race came up over and over, and I felt overwhelmed that the struggles I face were present in so many other professions. Not surprised, just kind of saddened by it. What’s different for me about church and this work, and why I keep on, is the strange, compelling work of the Divine in the Word and Sacrament. I know our experiences of it aren’t perfect because we sometimes get in the way. But I can’t escape it because it makes spaces for the strangest but most visceral encounter with hope. Maybe I could enact that in another profession. Maybe not. For now, this is where wholeness, redemption and justice come together for me, and I feel I can be a part of something truly amazing. (Mihee)
Single clergywoman jealous of pastors with wives and Catholic priests who have housekeepers #realclergybios
— Holly Boardman (@halehawk) January 31, 2016
Sometimes, we are tired.
Sometimes, we are awkward.
Not surprisingly, some of the feedback from the hashtag was negative. I was confused by that, till I realized “Oh. This is tone-policing.” I learned about tone-policing from #BlackTwitter, and it’s changed the way I talk to and with people about controversial subjects. Who am I to tell people how they should feel at any given moment? Respect the emotion that people bring with them, right? But since I now know what tone policing is, I see it more often. It happened in #realclergybios, chiding voices that derided “negativity” and “unhappiness”, as if clergy had no right to critique the church they sacrifice their lives to. What the Tone Police couldn’t admit, however, was that in the midst of that shared grief, there was joy too. There was so much joy. (Elizabeth)
There was grace.
There was gratitude.
There was transcendent hope.
I ended up clicking the heart under pretty much every tweet. Each one told a distinct but familiar piece of the story. They resonated, they convicted, they were gut-wrenching. But, they also spoke of a faithfulness and hope that wouldn’t let go. This vulnerability and honesty by people who were willing to acknowledge the reality that any human institution or endeavor is flawed and yet, they are willing also to keep on – it spoke volumes about the love of God and the possibilities of humanity. This is the body of Christ, in all its scars and bruises, its bones and marrow, its flesh-and-blood beauty. (Mihee)
#realclergybios began, at least in my part, as a tongue-in-cheek subversion of normative expectations of clergy. But very quickly the hashtag became a confessional space, clergy separated by polity and doctrine sharing common joys, griefs and absurdities that only arise in the context of our bizarre (and beautiful) vocation. Every week at Communion, I remind my church that the table is set by God and we find ourselves feasting alongside strangers who are our family. Imagine my surprise, when I opened up twitter and discovered that same truth in 140 characters or less. (Elizabeth)
And this pretty much summed it up. Amidst all the angst and hardship, we do this:
Thanks be to God.