By: Christa Meland & Diane Owen
In her office, Rev. Dawn Houser has a thank you note taped to her desk. It is simple, but incredibly meaningful to the pastor of Aitkin UMC.
“It is a daily reminder of the appreciation members of the congregation have shared with me,” she said. “It is also a reminder of why I was called to ministry in the first place.”
Always, but especially at a time when clergy burnout is at an all-time high, gestures of appreciation go a long way. This is a timely topic right now, as October is Pastor (or Clergy) Appreciation Month and Oct. 9 is Pastor Appreciation Sunday. Here are some suggestions for how you and your church can honor and express appreciation for your pastor(s) and/or other clergy:
1. Provide a bag or basket and encourage members to contribute a card of appreciation to the pastor. Young children, meanwhile, could create art or a drawing. Deepen the intention by providing bags or baskets where members can contribute cards for each staff person (if there are staff beyond the pastor).
“I hold on to thank you notes and emails,” said Rev. Nate Melcher, lead pastor at Richfield UMC. “Some are in a photo box to pull out and look over on tougher days to remind me that I can make a difference. Lately I've been posting them on my office wall because gratitude isn't something to hide away in a box.”
2. Write a special prayer for your pastor that the entire congregation reads together in worship. Deepen the intention by having each member of the congregation commit to ongoing prayer for the pastor and their family during October and beyond.
3. Pastoral leadership is a complex and multi-faceted role. The visible responsibilities of preaching and teaching are only a small part of the pastor’s job. Notice the smaller tasks and expressions of the pastor’s role—of which there are many—and demonstrate patience when things don’t go as planned. Deepen the intention by telling the pastor you notice all the ways they show up.
“The thing I value most from the congregation and community I serve is grace,” said Houser. “They offer grace when I have been tired and feeling a little fried! One member says things like, ‘You have been burning the candle at both ends—take a break.’ When there is a mistake in a worship service, meeting, or everyday activities, we laugh together about it and move on.”
4. Design and lead a worship service on any Sunday to provide respite for your pastor. Deepen the intention by insisting the pastor’s only commitment is to attend and experience worship from the pew.
9. Provide an experience—dinner, theater, train ride—for the pastor(s) and their family to enjoy together. Deepen the intention with a unique expression of appreciation intended specifically for the pastor’s spouse or family.
“When I arrived at my current church, I was given a movie package: fancy popcorn and classic-style buckets and vouchers for a local theater, all in quantities for our entire family,” said Melcher. “It felt personalized to me and affirming of the value of family time.”
10. Collect donations and provide the pastor a gift with special meaning that’s personal to them. Deepen the intention by doing a small gesture every month for the next year—flowers one month, a favorite Starbucks drink another month, etc.
Years ago, Houser set up a meal train for an older man in her congregation who had some pretty serious medical issues and had been ostracized by the community for a variety of reasons. A few weeks after he was home, he invited her to stop by for a visit and gifted her a beautiful lead crystal stone with praying hands embossed into it and a candle holder behind it to provide light. “This piece sits on a shelf in my office as a reminder of the reason I answered the call to ministry—to bring healing and hope to people around me,” said Houser. “I refer to this piece as my Ebeneezer.”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church