Gatekeeping

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I had a meeting a few months ago with a group of clergy and the counseling center on campus. They wanted to make sure that when students had serious psychological issues, that we knew where to refer them. “Clergy are often the entryway for long-term treatment.”

So true.

(As an aside, I asked if the counselors ever refer students to the clergy, and I got a blank stare. Finally, the confused counselor asked, “Why would we?” I explained that many students have spiritual crises that a student intern in a MSW program may not know how to handle, but we do. Sadly, she wasn’t convinced. But she did allow me to give her some referrals for a couple of certified pastoral counselors.)

The meeting was another realization that there are many, many things that cannot be taught through a seminary textbook, but they’re things we need to know. And they’re usually things we figure out quickly after placing our books on the study shelf.

When an addiction is destroying a family.
When someone suffers from long-term depression.
When an anxiety seems to be overtaking a person’s ability to function.
When sexual abuse has occurred.
When a child is high-need.
When a teenager cannot adjust.
When a couple can’t have a child.
When a caretaker needs to be taken care of.
When a spouse is having an affair.
When a person is going to die.
The list goes on and on….

Church leaders are often the ones with the first clues. We’re the ones that people can go to without having to call their insurance provider. Our meeting won’t show up on the permanent medical record. We won’t show up as a red flag for security clearance. We’re often the gatekeepers.

When I began as a pastor, certain people intimidated me. They were so successful, so together, I didn’t know how I could be their minister. But it didn’t take long before I realized just how broken humans are. How broken we all are.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming when we’re invited into people’s lives. There are many things that I’d rather not know. I have intuitions that I hope and pray are not true, but our intuitions become very sharp in this profession. With so much knowledge, you just can’t help notice some patterns after a while.

And, unlike a counselor, we’re in it for the long haul. I don’t mean that pastors should engage in long-term counseling. I mean that the session doesn’t end after an hour. We still acknowledge the person in the grocery store. We’re still involved, from that quick gasp at baptism to the slow last breath at the deathbed.

It is our wonderful, difficult job.

photo’s by gardenchien

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6 thoughts on “Gatekeeping

  1. Thanks for the heads up. And from our own experiences as parishioners we should know this, but it’s good to be reminded. This is one post I’m keeping as a reminder.

    Peace.

  2. This one particularly resonates. One woman recently told me that counseling often is what she calls a “God-free” zone. (reference: a spiritual director will refer to a counselor, but a counselor will not refer to a spiritual director.) I think that as well, we do not do long-term counseling, but there are spiritual needs that we meet (and not just clergy, the equipped community of believers, I think. If we think of ourselves as meeting all the spiritual needs of people in our parish, from birth to death, we will quickly burn out.)

  3. Carol,

    My life has been very affected by addiction and mental illness. While medication and psychology has been a great help, I fully believe that none of it would work if I didn’t have religion. There are some religious psychiatrists and psychologists out there. I go to two, who I actually found through the church. I think people get scared on both sides because they think if the patient needs meds, or addicted it means there’s not a spiritual problem, and vice-versa, but it is all so intertwined.

  4. This wasn’t what I expected when I saw the title – it was actually better. Your blog is reassuring, in contrast to seminary lately, which seems to be a Rube-Goldberg machine designed to, by laborious means, manufacture frustration. Thank you.

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