Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Pastoral Ministry and Self-Care

The cloistrers are not to the only place to try living out a Rule of Life

Patrick Comerford

Introduction: Balancing Life by the Rule

We all need to balance our work in pastoral ministry and our needs look after ourselves and to look after those we love and those who love us.

If we do not work at maintaining this balance, and remain conscious of that need, perhaps by developing a rule of life, then we will soon find ourselves living by a rule that is dictating the pace of life at the back of our minds.

Your priorities are your rule. But are you in control of those priorities?

The daily pressures of life in ministry can include:

● Pressure to get things done
● Pressure from your placement or first rector
● Pressure from your parish, community, colleagues, diocesan structure, perhaps even your bishop.
● What one bishop has described to me as pressure coming from not knowing the difference between the law of supply and demand and the law of demand and supply.
● The dangers of doing only what is urgent and not what is important.

Do you recognise some of these pressures already making undue demands in your ministry?

The warning signals that this is beginning to happen include:

● Doing only what has to be done or must be done.
● Not having time to talk to one another.
● Staying up late or getting up too early to finish work.
● Missing time for personal prayer, or simply allowing chapel or church to substitute for it.
● Putting things on the long-finger – and then not getting them done.
● Rushing meals, and then not remembering what you’ve eaten.
● Not taking time to listen to music, to watch television or to take an interest in sport.
● Not having time for a walk … with your partner, your children, your dog, or even on your own.
● Not reading novels or being fed culturally.
● Not reading the paper. In a famous dictum, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth advised that theology is to be done “with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other” – to “discern the signs of the times” so that theology is relevant to our lives today, so that we listen to God’s Word to us in the midst of our lives, so that our preaching is relevant. He advised young theologians to “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”
● Not having time for life and love.
● Not having time for silence.

If you do not have time to listen to your own thoughts, how can you have time to listen to what God might be saying to you?

An introduction to rules

In the third and fourth centuries, the first Christian monasteries wrote rules covering all aspects of life within their walls. Their goal was to keep God at their individual and collective centre.

The Rule of Saint Benedict may be the best known rule today. But there were hundreds, if not thousands, of other rules. Monastic communities still live by rules ancient or modern. Should we too?

The point of a rule of life, for communities or individuals, is that life should be lived in balance, with God as the focal point. It is so easy to live a life that is out of balance, where work or some other aspect of my life takes over. And it is often too tempting to place myself at the centre of my own universe.

Living a rule of life helps me to keep striving for balance – to be conscious of what I do and why – and it reminds me to be open to God in all aspects of my daily life. A rule helps me remember that I am not the centre of my own universe, and that I am one part of something much larger.

If you’re still in the habit of making, trying to keep, and then breaking New Year's resolutions, you have long realised that these are largely built on a negative self-images. We decide that we are too heavy, too lazy, too unattractive, and we decide we’re going to fix that. We drop the resolutions quickly, for the most part, because they continually remind us that we’re just not good enough.

A rule of life, however, grows from the positive aspects of our life. We discern it in conversation with God, make God the focus of our rule (rather than our own negative images of ourselves) and we move in the directions in which we feel called. A rule of life is a response to being loved by God in the first place, and feeling moved to become what God calls us to be in this world.

Though there are as many ways to look at rules of life as there are rules, most balanced rules address the same basic categories:

● seeking God;
● prayer;
● work;
● study;
● spiritual community and worship;
● care of our bodies;
● reaching out to others;
● hospitality.

Over the years I have tried to discern what God calls me to do in these areas.

For instance, I could ask: What kind of prayer does God call me to? How should I care for my body in a way that honours it as a gift from God? How can I be the arms and legs and voice of God for others in this world who need my help?

These are the kinds of questions we should try to answer, in conversation and in prayer with God, and with our spiritual companions and advisers.

How often have you noticed that you are often trying to take on too much, when I should be taking baby steps. Instead of discerning the next step in my spiritual life, I decide that starting tomorrow I will take on some huge and time-consuming spiritual discipline and do it every day from now on. In other words, I begin to treat my rule of life like a New Year’s resolution. When we fail to keep such a rule, it is enormously helpful to have spiritual directors or friends to remind us that we’ve set my goals too high or been too hard on myself.

Rules are never meant to be discerned or kept in isolation. The support of a close friend, adviser, or a prayer community makes all the difference in living a rule of life.

‘Rule of life’

The word rule can off-putting, and can sound authoritarian. We cannot measure human and spiritual “progress.”

Indeed, I even have problems with the concept of progress here, as if it were some kind of achievement to be measured, evaluated and judged, as if some are spiritual achievers and some are spiritual failures.

On the other hand, the need for responsible discipleship, taking stock of where we are, where we’re going, and not letting the travelling take control of the journey.

In his book, Spirituality Workbook, David Runcorn (p. 58) says a rule of life is:

● A way of grace:

‘there is no condemnation’

● To be lived in mercy:

‘love is the fulfilling of the law’

● A means of growth and transformation:

‘follow me’

He speaks of a Rule of Life in the following terms (p. 59):

1, Rule as scaffolding:

Think of what scaffolding does. It’s not the real building, but without it, it would never have been built.

2, Rule as punctuation:

You cannot read a sentence without the full stops, commas, and apostrophes. Punctuation paces our reading, and makes it meaningful.

3, Rule as guidepost and support:

The Latin word for rule, regula, suggests a signpost, pointing us in the direction we’re going, or a handrail that guides us as we climb a stairs, something to lean on.

Devising a rule of life

What should be included in a Rule of Life?

It is amazing how many priests and students I talk to about framing a Rule of Life think of “religious” priorities only. Life is not just “religious”! We all need to eat, drink, breath and sleep. These activities ought to be central in Any rule of life.

How we pray

Taking care of yourself in ministry also means being aware of the time you give to and the way in which you relate to the people who are most important in your life: spouse, children, family, community, people on this course or in your parish … and not forgetting the people we don’t like.

But it also involves the time we give to and the value we put on possessions, hobbies, leisure time activities, and money, time itself.

A rule of life should set out a balance of life between Personal, Family, Friends, Work, Church and Leisure, marking out times for each daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

Annual commitments for people with children will include holidays outside term-time.

If we set out a chart with these priorities going across, and the different periods of time going down the chart, then we find 24 boxes (6 X 4), and each box needs ke a commitment. Think of what month, week, day, or time it might be fulfilled in.

As you work through such a chart pray for guidance and wisdom.

Seek a pattern that is possible, achievable, and sustainable. This is not a place for heroics. Be realistic.

Avoid legalism – “I must … I should.” Think more of asking for and needing the help of God.

Honour your responsibility to the important people in your life. The commitments we make for ourselves should not be at the expense of others.

Remember that a rule of life is about the whole of life, not a special portion of it.

But allow the rule to challenge you too. What is your present prayer life like? And what would you like to be like? What small steps can you take as the first steps towards reaching this? What things would you like to improve or change in other aspects of your life? For example, you might like to listen to all the Bach cantatas, Beethoven symphonies, or Mozart masses, or to read all the Starbridge novels by Susan Howatch.

Remember that every new challenge you take on means dropping something else.

And constantly review how your commitments and priorities. This should be part of any rule of life. If it becomes static it doesn’t remain relevant, and it becomes legalistic and a source of guilt.

Daily prayer

There is the danger of turning my spiritual life into something to add to my to-do list, and it becomes a chore and not a blessing.

A rule for prayer needs to be more open-ended.

You can be committed to praying daily, but how and when you do that may vary from day-to-day. Some days God may get five minutes of my time, and other days we may spend an hour together.

We all have our own unique relationship with God and we need to pay attention to that. Think of it as you would your close friendships. One friend you might see or talk with daily. With another perhaps you have drinks every Thursday night. What God calls you to do, and how you communicate with God is unique to your own relationship, and it takes some time and experimentation to discern what form your rule should take.

Writing down your rule of life, and learning to live it more intentionally, is, of course, only the beginning of this part of your spiritual journey. Following your rule deepens your relationship with God, and as a result of that, your rule will develop and change as you seek God more fully.

Example of rules of life and lifestyle rules:

Some example of rules of life and lifestyle rules include:

1, The Life Style Movement

In 1972, Canon Horace Dammers (1921-2004) of Coventry Cathedral, later Dean of Bristol Cathedral (1973-1984), founded the Life Style Movement, which challenged the values of the First World in the interests of the Third. The motto was simple: to live simply, so that others could simply live.

Members of the Life Style Movement are expected to sign the Commitment and some find it helpful to keep a copy of it handy. It goes as follows:

Recognising that the peaceful development and perhaps the survival of the human race are threatened by

● The injustice of extremes of poverty and wealth;
● The profligate use of natural resources and the pollution of the environment;
● The denial of useful and creative work to so many people,

I therefore seek to:

● Live simply that all may simply live;
● Give freely that all may be free to give;
● Avoid wasteful use of resources and show care for the environment;
● Work with others for social justice through appropriate action;
● Enjoy such good things as are compatible with this Commitment;
● Share my commitment with others.

2, The Community of the Cross of Nails, Coventry Cathedral:

Another effort at drawing up a Rule of Life within the Anglican tradition came from the Community of the Cross of Nails in Coventry Cathedral, which emphasised reconciliation in the decades immediately after World War II. Its rule of life is reflected in the community’s well-known prayer:

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class
Father forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own
Father forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth
Father forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others
Father forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee
Father forgive.

The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children
Father forgive.

The pride that leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God
Father forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you

3, The Rule of Saint Benedict:

The Rule of Saint Benedict (ca 480-543) was written for monks living in community under the authority of an abbot. Over the past 1,500 years, it has become the leading guide in Western Christianity for monastic living in community, in Orthodoxy, Catholicism and – since the Reformations – in the Anglican and many Protestant traditions.

The spirit of Saint Benedict's Rule is summed up in the Benedictine motto: pax (“peace”) and the traditional ora et labora (“pray and work”).

Compared to other precepts, the Rule provides a moderate path between individual zeal and formulaic institutionalism; because of this middle ground it has been widely popular. Benedict’s concerns were the needs of monks in a community environment: namely, to establish due order, to foster an understanding of the relational nature of human beings, and to provide a spiritual father to support and strengthen the individual’s ascetic effort and the spiritual growth that is required for the fulfilment of the human vocation, theosis.

The Rule of St Benedict has been used by Benedictines for 15 centuries, and so Saint Benedict is sometimes regarded as the founder of Western monasticism.

His Rule is written as a guide for individual communities.

The Benedictine emphasis on autonomy helped to cultivate models of tightly bonded communities and contemplative lifestyles.

Saint Benedict’s Rule organises the monastic day into regular periods of communal and private prayer, sleep, spiritual reading, and manual labour – ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, “that in all [things] God may be glorified.” In later centuries, intellectual work and teaching took the place of farming, crafts, or other forms of manual labour for many – if not most – Benedictines.

The Rule of life for Anglican Benedictine Oblates from the Anglican Benedictine Abbey at Alton in Hampshire includes these twelve points:

1, To conform one’s life to the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict.

2, Daily to pray a specified portion of the Divine Office.

3, To practice regular and frequent attendance at the Eucharist/Holy Communion, especially on Sundays and feast days.

4, To practice regular prayer, both formal and meditative.

5, To make an annual retreat at the Abbey.

6, To use the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as often as may be appropriate.

7, To make the life and work of the Abbey a regular intention of prayer, especially at the Eucharist or Holy Communion. This intention should be observed with special fervour on festivals throughout the year.

8, Where appropriate, to preach about the monastic life and to foster vocations.

9, Daily to recite the Prayers of Union.

10, To keep in regular contact with the Community and to visit the Abbey as frequently as possible.

11, To practise regular almsgiving.

12, To make adequate provision for study, recreation and the needs of family commitment and personal relationship.

4, Stephen Covey: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989, is a self-help book written by Stephen R. Covey. It has sold over 15 million copies in 38 languages since its first publication, which was marked by the release of a 15th anniversary edition in 2004. The book lists seven principles that, if established as habits, are supposed to help a person achieve true interdependent “effectiveness.”

Covey argues this is achieved by aligning oneself to what he calls “true north” —principles of a character ethic that, unlike values, he believes to be universal and timeless.

The book was enormously popular, and catapulted Covey into lucrative public-speaking appearances and workshops. He has also written a number of follow-up books, such as Power of the Seven Habits, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, and Beyond the Seven Habits. A sequel to The Seven Habits is The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (2004).

The Seven Habits:

The chapters are dedicated to each of the habits, which are represented by the following imperatives:

1, Be Pro-active. Here, Covey emphasises the original sense of the term "proactive" as coined by Victor Frankl. You can either be proactive or reactive when it comes to how you act about certain things. Being “proactive” means taking responsibility for everything in life. When you’re reactive, you blame other people and circumstances for obstacles or problems. Initiative and taking action will then follow. Covey shows how man is different from animals in that he has self-consciousness. He has the ability to detach himself and observe his own self, think about his thoughts. He goes on to say how this attribute enables him. It gives him the power not to be affected by his circumstances. Covey talks about “Stimulus and Response.” Between Stimulus and Response, we have the power to choose the response.

2, Begin with the End In Mind. This chapter is about setting long-term goals based on “true-north principles.” Covey recommends to formulate a “personal mission statement” to document one’s perception of one’s own purpose in life. He sees visualisation as an important tool to develop this. He also deals with organisational mission statements, which he claims to be more effective if developed and supported by all members of an organisation, rather than being prescribed.

3, Put First Things First. Here, Covey describes a framework for prioritising work that is aimed at long-term goals, at the expense of tasks that appear to be urgent, but are in fact less important. Delegation is presented as an important part of time management. Successful delegation, according to Covey, focuses on results and benchmarks that are to be agreed in advance, rather than on prescribing detailed work plans.

4, Think Win/Win describes an attitude that seeks mutually beneficial solutions that satisfy the needs of oneself as well as those of others, or, in the case of a conflict, both parties involved.

5, Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Covey warns that giving out advice before having empathetically understood a person and their situation is likely lead to that advice being rejected. Thoroughly listening to another person’s concerns instead of reading out your own autobiography is purported to increase the chance of establishing a working communication.

6, Synergise describes a way of working in teams. Apply effective problem solving. Apply collaborative decision making. Value differences. Build on divergent strengths. Leverage creative collaboration. Embrace and leverage innovation. It is put forth that, when this is pursued as a habit, the result of the teamwork will exceed the sum of what each of the members could have achieved on their own. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

7, Sharpen the saw focuses on balanced self-renewal. Regaining what Covey calls “production capability” by engaging in carefully selected recreational activities. [Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1992), p. 107.]

David Runcorn adapts these by drawing up what he describes as A “rule of life for a woman with a dual vocation to working career and family life, seeking to maintain a faithful and creative relationship between them”:

● I will seek to balance career and family as best I can since both are important to me.

● My home will be a place where I and my family, friends and guests find joy, comfort peace and happiness.

● I will exercise wisdom in what we choose to eat, read and do at home. I especially want my children to love, to learn and to laugh – and to work and develop their unique talents.

● I will be a concerned and responsible citizen, involved in political process to ensure my voice is heard and my vote is counted.

● I will act on situations and opportunities rather than be acted upon.

● I will try to keep myself free from addictive and destructive habits. I will develop habits that free me from old labels and limits and expand my capabilities and choices.

● My money will be my servant, not my master. My wants will be subject to my needs and my means.

● Except for long-term home and car loans, I will seek to keep myself free from consumer debt.

● I will spend less that I earn.

● I will use what money I have to make life more enjoyable for others through service and charitable giving.

[David Runcorn, Spirituality Workbook, p. 61.]

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes used for a workshop on “Pastoral Ministry and Self-Care” with Year III students on the Non-Stipendiary Ministry (NSM) course on 18 October 2008 and with Year II students on the B.Th. course on Spirituality for Ministry on 22 October 2008.

The Johannine Letters: I John 2: 3-11

The entrance to the Basilica of Saint John in Ephesus: local tradition says Saint John the Divine lived on this site after his exile on Patmos ended, and wrote his Gospel and Epistles here (Photograph © Patrick Comerford, 2008).

Patrick Comerford

This section contains three claims to intimate knowledge of God, expressed by the three Greek participles ho legon (ὁ λέγων , “the one who says”) at the beginning of verse 4, 6, and 9. As with the three conditional clauses beginning with ean eipomen (ἐὰν εἴπωμεν, “if we say”) in the previous section (1: 6, 1: 8, 1: 10), these participles indirectly reflect the claims of the opponents. They are followed by the author’s evaluation of these claims and their implications.

While the subject matter generally continues from the preceding section, the focus shifts from awareness and acknowledgment of sin to obedience to God’s commandments. It is through obedience that we may have assurance of the genuineness of our relationship with God. In this section, the writer is talking about discipline.

In the section, I John specifically emphasises the theme of keeping the commandments in order to know God. In this we need to remember that knowledge implies intimacy.

We can see here a virtual repetition of the first part of the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel.

The concept of “light” (contrasted with “darkness”) introduced in 1: 5 appears again (for the last time in 1 John) in 2: 8-11. The concept of “fellowship,” introduced in the prologue (1: 4) and discussed in 1: 8 to 2: 2, no longer appears in this section, but is replaced by an emphasis on “knowing” and “loving” God along with loving fellow believers (2:3, 4, 5, 10).

There are three claims to intimate knowledge of God. These are found in verses 4, 6 and 9. Each claim begins with the phrase “the one who says…” or “whoever says” and each of these claims reflect the position of the secessionist opponents.

Love of God, which is a two-way relationship involving the love of God for us and the love of God that we have, is perfected by keeping the commandments.

Verses 3-5 talk about obedience to God’s commandments. This obedience tests whether we know God, and measures the perfection of completeness of our love of God (see John 14: 15, 21, 23; John 15: 10).

Verse 3: The significance of the word kai (Καὶ, “and” or “now”) at the beginning of 2: 3 is important for understanding the argument, because a similar use of the conjunction kai occurs at the beginning of 1: 5. Here it is looking back to the previous use in 1: 5. The author, after discussing three claims of the opponents in 1: 6, 8, and 10 and putting forward three counter-claims of his own in 1: 7, 1: 9, and 2: 1, is now returning to the theme of God as light, which he introduced in 1: 5. The author will now discuss how a Christian may have assurance that he or she has come to know the God who is light, against the opponents who make the same profession of knowing God, but who lack the reality of such knowledge, as their behaviour makes clear.

Verse 3: There is some problem determining whether the pronouns in verse 3 – αὐτόν, αὐτοῦ, which are translated as “him” and “his” in the NRSV but as God in other translations – refer to God the Father or to Jesus Christ. It is more likely the author of I John is referring to God the Father here. When John wants to specify a reference to Jesus, he uses the expression “that one” (ἐκεῖνος, verse 6; translated in some versions as Jesus but not in the original Greek text). The author’s point in this verse is that obedience to God’s commandments gives us assurance that we have come to know God.

The author does not explicitly state what the “commandments” are which believers are supposed to obey. One might immediately assume that the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments.

However, there is no indication anywhere else in I John (except, perhaps, in 5: 21, with its prohibition of idolatry) that the author is concerned about the Mosaic law. God’s commands are spelled out later in the letter, in 3: 23: “Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment.” The phrase “love one another” is found as the “new commandment” of John 13: 34, and is a major Johannine theme.

Verse 6: Jesus is the pattern of obedience.

In this verse, there is no distinction between God (the Father – “abide in him”) and Christ (“as he walked/lived”). This ambiguity may be explained, perhaps, by the conviction that Jesus and the Father are one.

Verses 7-11: This section emphasises love for one another.

Verse 7: The thoughts of love and of commandments introduce the great commandment of the Last Supper (see John 13: 34).

Verse 8: The commandment to love, though old, is never obsolete or out-of-date. Instead, it is always new, being the law of the new age and overcoming the darkness of evil (see I John 1: 5; John 13: 34; John 15: 12). The reference to the “true light” reminds us of the prologue to Saint John’s Gospel.

Verses 9-11: Hatred of a brother or sister, a fellow Christian, is incompatible with Christ’s light (see John 8: 12; John 11: 9-10; John 12: 35-36). The failure to keep the great commandment of love removes one from the sphere of the light of Jesus.

Next week: John 2: 12-14.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group on Wednesday 22 October 2008.