During this clergy appreciation month, I want to take time for appreciating ministry volunteers. Let’s also give thanks for the volunteer clergy who serve without pay. And offer gratitude for the variety of Christian vocations to which God calls people. In the United States the majority of churches have fewer than 100 members. Thus many of their day-to-day operations, pastoral care, administration, hospitality, and community building depends largely on unpaid laborers. Many Immigrant churches and historic Black churches run entirely on the volunteer labor.
This October of clergy appreciation, I want to turn our attention to giving thanks and expressing appreciation for these volunteer ministers. They are no less called and no less committed, although they are typically unpaid and often go without very much notice.
As more small churches accept the need for bi-vocational ministry, the significance of volunteers to keep churches strong and healthy, is even greater. This shift comes in a time when volunteerism is declining, and commitment to the institutional church is on a downswing. It is no simple resolution. Yet to engage regularly in the habit of appreciation and offer clear and generous thanks, makes work more enjoyable. Genuine gratitude attracts people to be part of a community. Something else that to me feels in short supply while so many people are suffering with grief and anxiety in these troubled days.
Appreciating God’s call to all Christians
Let me start with the obvious. God does not call people only to be pastors or ministers. Ordained ministry is but one calling in the ecology of God‘s blessing and beloved community. In Christian theology and practice, we understand that God blesses all Christians with gifts for love and service to build up the community of faith (Ephesians 4:2).
God calls people to all kinds of work inside and outside the church. Some of those callings connect to paid work and professional careers. Other callings grow out of the generosity of one’s heart. The church benefits from these gifts freely given but should never take them for granted.
The people who sit in the pews or the choir loft, who are caring for children in the nursery, serving communion and taking up offering, teaching classes on zoom, and visiting the hospital, organizing for justice and preparing next year‘s budget, all have callings and vocations of their own. Many churches declare, “every member a minister“ on signs and bulletins. They remind us of a major gifts of the Protestant Reformation: the expansion of vocation to holy work beyond the priesthood to all of God‘s beloved community.
So these two prongs of vocation – to one’s work, and to one service in the church – need and deserve acknowledgment and gratitude this month.
A prayer of thanks for every Christian vocation
God of all good gifts, thank you for generously pouring out those gifts onto the human spirit. Thank you for calling us into beloved community. Thank you for urging us to live in the world as salt and light. For every Christian who takes their deeply held values into the marketplace, a government job, or the nonprofit sector, we give thanks. And for each one who works to embody the love of Jesus without proselytizing or nationalizing their faith, we give thanks. And for every laborer who shares their gifts of hospitality, administration, speaking out, and giving encouragement that bear witness to your loving presence, we give thanks. For each person who understands their work to be more than a paycheck and seeks to be people of faith, acting with humility, honesty and love, we are inspired and grateful.
We are thankful for teachers and lawyers and garbage collectors, for child care, hospitality, and service industry workers. And for people who drive city streets and over the highways delivering good and services; and for the engineers who build them, for those who sell and buy and organize and clean, for those who create art and write books and poems and music, we give thanks. For every good work animated by gifts of the Spirit, and rooted in the ground of your love, we offer a large open heart a thanks. God we see you making the world a more livable place through the lives and labors of your people.
A prayer of appreciation for church volunteers
God of mystery and hidden kindnesses, we thank you for the many labors and tasks done by hands and hearts in our community of faith.
For volunteers who rock babies
sweep the floor
fold the bulletins
change out the banners
call to check on neighbors
set up the chairs
and fold them all up again
we give thanks.
Their hands are your hands, and their hearts are your heart. They make the beloved community, and they also keep it stocked with good things. And they give from their own resources to make it all possible. For their generosity, reliable presence, and kindness of spirit we are ever grateful.
Prayer of lament and gratitude for clergy who work without pay
God, you call people to the work of ministry. You gift, train, and equip them for serving the church and world. Yet for some, opportunities for paid employment do not materialize. We lament for women who are called to ministry yet cannot find a place to serve. We lament for gifts that are not seen and recognized. And in the same breath we are grateful for the ways these souls share their gifts and calling with us. In part because they can do no other.
We ask your hand, O God, to open wide the doors and fling high the windows. Show the ways forward to all who are gifted and called to your church. Help them to be seen and heard in their callings. We pray that they will receive adequate compensation and fair treatment for their labors. And for all those who are retired or who stepped aside from ministry willingly, yet still give their gifts and time and energy to the church, we give our abundant thanks.
You are invited to a service for vocational grief on All Saints’ Day
Even in the very best of callings, loss is part of the equation. Recognizing vocational loss and grief when you see it or experience it, is a good start. Acknowledging and then honoring the loss, along with its many feelings, may keep the losses from operating unnamed in the shadows of your vocation and work. Loss without acknowledgment can drain away your life. But in the light of Christ, seen and heard, it may with time become one more dimension of a complex calling.
Join me on All Saints’ Day for a brief mid-day service to honor vocational loss and grief. We will simply be together for a 45 minute zoom gathering. This service is especially for of you who work so intensely for everyone else.
Three Resources for Clergy Appreciation in the 3MMM Shop
We have three clergy appreciation gifts on sale in the shop this month! Each one is just $20 and includes shipping.
- Give your pastor a month of sermon writing at the Writing Table. Buy now, and the gift will last all the way through the month of November! Your pastor can join Eileen and other ministers, professors, and authors at the Writing Table any morning to support him in getting her weekly writing done!
- She doesn’t have the book Pastoral Imagination? Time to buy it! Eileen will even sign it! Shipping is free.
- Or share 10 permission slip cards that serve as reminders for giving oneself permission to do small things like laugh or cry or go outside, read a book or just say no, so that there is time, energy, and space in our lives for the big callings to which God has called us!