Post Author: Austin Crenshaw Shelley and Emily M. Brown
On the seventh day of Christmas, my Young Clergy Women colleagues gave to me: laughter and solidarity.
A particular brand of stress befalls those of us who are working for Jesus as the world celebrates his birth. It’s a bit like working the roller coaster line at an amusement park. The folks who climb into the cars and buckle up get to scream and raise their hands as they enjoy the thrill of the ride. But for the person who checks to make sure the safety bars are locked in place (an important job—but a monotonous one), the roller coaster loses some of its luster.
And so it is that for many young clergy women, Advent and Christmas are filled with…wonder? No. Joy? Not exactly. Peace? Not even close. Try: to-do lists. Long to-do lists and longer hours at work fill our ever-shortening days, not to mention the calendar-crowding holiday parties and social events we’re expected to attend in our “official” capacity as clergy. In the midst of the holiday hustle, we struggle to find quality time with our own families even as we are setting the stage for other families to worship together. We yearn to behold the baby in the manger—to rest and reflect and contemplate the one who called us into this life of service—and yet, his coming means that there are liturgies to plan, tinsel angel wings to repair, homilies to write, candles with plastic wax catchers to order.
Most of us wouldn’t trade this holy work. We wouldn’t trade visiting families who are experiencing grief and tragedy that are somehow magnified by the sparkling lights of Christmas. We wouldn’t trade thoughtfully preparing worship services that offer a space for the people in the pews to sing with angels and kneel beside shepherds and wise men.
But while we would not have Advent and Christmas any other way, we need humor to keep going. So for these seasons that come bearing both good tidings and great stress, er, I mean, joy, The Young Clergy Women Project offers a fun (and educational!) list—What I Really Want for Christmas: Christmas Letters from Young Clergy Women. (Names and minor details have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent.)
Dear Family: Please, please understand. I can’t be there with you for our family gathering on Christmas Eve. Seriously. Just like last year. And every year until I retire. Occupational hazard, I guess. Save some sweet potato casserole for me.
Dear Partner: You were in charge of getting that one necessary Christmas gift for our child. It’s the one thing she’s consistently and repeatedly requested from us, other relatives, and every Santa Claus she’s seen in public for the last three months. I’ve suggested links and coupons. At least twice. You were clear that you wanted to take care of it. Now I’m concerned. But I can’t ask you about it without seeming like a nag, and I can’t just do it myself with the coupon that expires tonight because that would be rude and over-functioning.
Dear Body: I know this time of year stinks. December always stinks. But it will be over soon. Remember, we have that spa gift card from our aunt, and we’re scheduling a massage ASAP. But until then, please hold it together. The emergency room doesn’t fit into my holiday work schedule. Just a few more days until Epiphany, and then we can rest!
Dear Mother-in-law: YOU were the one who prayed for your son to marry a “nice Christian girl.” Let this be a reminder of what bad theology will get you: a pastor who works on Sundays and religious holidays! This one’s on you.
Dear Parishioners: I am busting my tail to make sure that my first Advent as a pastor has all the pieces that are necessary and befitting your deeply rooted traditions. Little budget snarks like “We should have replaced the (insert building project here: HVAC/plumbing/roof) instead of hiring you as our pastor” are not helpful. Love, Your Pastor who also Happens to Be a Human who Has Feelings
Dear Ministry Colleague: You know when is not a great time to schedule a vacation? Christmas Eve through Epiphany, that’s when. I sort of hope you lose your passport. Love, Your Part-time Colleague
Dear Children’s Christmas Pageant Director with Frustrated Ambitions to the Stage: God help me, if you try to do blocking with the three-year-old-and-under sheep at tomorrow’s dress rehearsal, I just don’t know that I can be held responsible for my actions. Small children (and sheep, for that matter) are totally awesome at taking directions and going or staying where you tell them!
Dear Extended Family: Don’t ask me when we’ll have kids. You might think that’s my biological clock ticking, but in reality, it’s just my heart rate rising in response to your rudeness.
Dear In-Laws: Thanks so much for the two bottles of shampoo you wrapped and mailed as my Christmas present. They go great with the thirty other bottles of shampoo you have given me as gifts!
Dear Four-Year-Old Child: I noticed, as I was getting your pajamas on, that you were wearing an extra pair of underwear AND pants under your other pants. This means that all day at preschool, you were wearing a four-layered sandwich of underwear-pants-underwear-pants. I’m assuming that somehow your teacher did not notice this disaster and ask what kind of supervision we have in the morning—obviously none. I know you are also aware that dinner this week has consisted of drive through, pancakes, Jimmy Johns, and enchiladas two nights in a row. I am currently looking into whether or not you’ll be able to use your education savings account to pay for the therapy you’ll need in early adulthood. Love, Pastor Mama
Dear Sweet Parishioner: When you tell me in the receiving line after the worship service that my eleven-month-old son looks like a hippie and needs a haircut, I don’t have Christian thoughts.
Dear Choir: I realize you might want to use different harmonies from the ones in the congregational hymnal. (Great!) But please make sure you are singing the same words (and number of verses!) as the congregation. That got messy.
Dear Internal Revenue Service: That much?!
Dear Next Year: Our name is Extreme Frugality on a Clergy Salary
Dear Family and Church Members Who are Teachers: I understand that children are extra-energetic this time of year and that you have a tough job. But seriously, if any more of you complain to me about having to work until December 23rd….well, you’re getting no sympathy from me.
We hope you enjoyed a laugh. May holy humor sustain you this Christmastide,
Emily and Austin
Emily and Austin serve as co-managing editors of Fidelia, the online magazine of The Young Clergy Women Project. They share a love for Jesus, a certain level of sleep deprivation, and a knack for witty references to Broadway musicals and/or the Bible.
Image by: Lynn Greyling
Used with permission