At least several times a year we read that whales have run aground on a beach somewhere and died. Though groundings have happened in many places around the world, there appears to be a correlation between this sad behavior and underwater sonar testing by some nation's navy. Because they have hearing that is far more sensitive than that of humans, whales may experience the sonar as fingernails on a blackboard and literally be driven mad. There is something intolerable in the environment which they cannot escape, so they beach themselves. The whales make it clear that something has gone terribly, terribly, wrong.
The stresses of pastoral ministry may not sound like fingernails on the blackboard, at least not at first. The pastor may assume she is able to keep adequate boundaries around her feelings at being unfairly criticized by some layfolk in her parish. She may be convinced her family is dealing well with the difficulties of parsonage living. She may rationalize the decay of intimacy in her marriage as a passing thing, hoping the relationship will heal itself. She may convince herself that a mounting sense of desperation is the result of inadequacies in her prayer life, something she can fix with more discipline and focus. But the noise increases and the environment becomes more and more unbearable. To mention the cacophony to someone in the denominational chain of command is politically risky, and next Sunday is approaching, with its expectations for fresh preaching, strong pastoral presence and excellent listening skills. She wants to scream.
Of course she does, and she needs a place where she has permission to do that. A place where she won't be judged, politically compromised or criticized. She needs to be with others who have heard the din and survived, because they are best equipped to listen to her. Where are those sets of ears? Those empathic souls? Those pastors to the pastor? For a pastor to be healthy in the Wesleyan sense, she must have that place of safety and of caring: peer group, trusted clergy friends, fellow workers in the Kingdom. They may just be the answer to the prayers she believes have recently gone unheard.
Edgar Moore, M.Div., Ph.D.
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity