Pastors are People, Too

Parson (from Latin persona—meaning “person”)

Parsonage (from Latin—a rectory or house, where a person lives)

For a pastor, the deepest levels of satisfaction and intimacy in a parish occur when others begin to see the pastor as a person—a person with hopes and dreams, loves and fears, joys and tears. This revelation is not easily obtained in the parish; and the becoming is often hidden behind many masks, false identities and plagiarized identifications.

For these reasons and more, not every pastor becomes a person.

Some pastors choose to remain incognito—disguised behind thin layers of superiority (or inferiority), behind cardboard and cliché, always dressed up in the costumes of resident sage, spiritual guide, exemplar of the faith. These pastors rarely become persons, however, at least not their own persons; and even in the best of circumstances, they are forced to live one of two lives: the character or the actor. In time, they scarcely can distinguish one from the other; neither the character nor the actor captures the essence of his or her personhood.

Other pastors cannot break free of the costumes their congregations force them to wear. These costumes are binding, humiliating, often funny. Wherever they go, whoever they are or hope to be, these pastors always must wear the official face, the accepted expression, the look that others expect them to wear. They must speak the words others expect them to speak. Their attire is limited, and they essentially are avatars, walking the parish beat, mere representations of the overblown images and stereotypes that must be fulfilled. These pastors are often miserable in their shackles, yet cannot bring themselves to break free. If they are lucky, they will die young. Many only can dream of becoming persons.

Still other pastors attempt to masquerade as priests, but they know they are persons; the game begins to eat away at the seams that are holding their costumes together. They are moth-ridden, torn, and in time their costumes begin to drop away in tattered swatches, exposing them for who they really are or want to be; but they are embarrassed by being a person, and some would rather dress the part again instead of exposing their vulnerabilities.

It is difficult to be a pastor who is a person. Often, it is more difficult to find a parish that will allow a person to be a pastor. Many congregations prefer the masquerade, the slight-of-hand artist, the hall of mirrors.

Pastors who become persons in the parish are rare, but when other persons accept the pastor as a person, all are set free. The people realize they have a person in their midst. This is a person who feels, who cares, who is real—not an imaginary hero or a quick-change artist. Many people—especially those whose lives have been exposed or destroyed—will come to a person for help. A person might understand, might actually listen. A person would not offer platitudes or scripted lines. A person might cry, laugh, sit in silence or show up for a party wearing blue jeans and toting a gag gift. A person would be real.

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