There’s No Crying in Baseball

Post Author: Katherine Willis Pershey

I always have been, and it seems as though I always will be. When I am hit by public or personal tragedy, when I am besieged by anxiety or drowning in hormones, my tear ducts kick into action and flood my
cheeks with saltwater. Though I haven’t let loose and sobbed in church (thank you, baby Jesus), in the privacy of the parsonage I have wept and sniffed and hiccuped until I’m all cried out. The blissful, empty
feeling after a good cry makes the reddened eyes all worth it,  and my blood pressure thanks me for not repressing my emotions. Crying really is a blessed release.

Except, of course, when it happens at church.

The worst case was the time I cried over Deacon, our dog. We adopted him the week I began my call; he was lazing by my feet when I wrote the first sermon I preached for this congregation. He was a great dog – a sweet, mellow pit bull mix who transformed us into family over the fourteen months we walked and ate and lived with him. We noticed the swollen glands on a Sunday afternoon, and by the following weekend we knew he’d only survive a matter of weeks. We were devastated. I cried, as I do, for days on end.

And then Sunday came along again. I had to pull myself together to lead worship, and I did. My eyes were as dry as bones as I stood before the congregation to share the joys and the concerns of the community – until I was jarred out of my carefully wrought armor of defense mechanisms when one of the few members of the congregation who knew stood and announced Deacon’s illness. Before she even finished her sentence, I crumpled into the first pew, my back to my church, and succumbed to the inevitable shower of tears. She meant well; I’m not and never was angry at her act of compassion. She just didn’t know that I, the Reverend Pershey, would fall apart when my dog died.

I know that pastoral ministry requires vulnerability, but I’d much rather be vulnerable on my own terms. I am as young as I look, and have spent a lot of time thinking about the impact my age has on my ministry. Becoming a solo pastor at twenty-four years old meant that I was constantly under pressure—internally as often as externally—to prove that I was really grown-up enough for the role. I laud my congregation for trusting me to be their pastor, and I work hard to live up to the responsibilities of my calling. And then I had to go and weep in front of the whole church.

I never felt more like a little girl.

Of course they gave me grace. There was this horrible year of silence (though it was probably more like twenty seconds) in which I gathered myself together, stood and faced them, and confirmed the report. Not a one looked at me with judgment; all eyes were full of sympathy. As I began the pastoral prayer, my voice wavering with uncried tears, someone handed me a tissue.

And then I preached. I preached moments after losing it. I preached even though my heart was broken and no matter how many tears I shed, my dog was still going to be put to sleep in a few short weeks. I preached even though I’m pretty sure not a single person in the sanctuary, myself included, could concentrate on what I was saying. I preached even though the visitors who happened to be there that day would never go back to the church where the pastor was a little girl, let alone a little girl who cried in worship. I preached, for while I may be a little girl who cries too much, I’m also a preacher.

Katherine Willis Pershey pastors a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Southern California. She and her husband, Ben, adopted a dog named Atticus this summer. She recently placed boxes of tissues in the sanctuary, in recognition that while there may not be crying in baseball, there is occasionally crying in church. And that's okay.

11 replies
  1. Heather says:

    I’ve cried twice. Once, a funeral for a woman who died on Boxing Day. She was nice enough, but it was at the point of my sermon where I was sharing my vision of her being welcomed home by four of her good friends form the parish who had all died in the previous twelve months that really got me. All that grief, coming hard on the heels of an exhausting Christmas….
    The second time was yesterday, when I announced that I was leaving to accept another position after nine years here.
    Both times, it was OK. Both times, it showed my congregations how deeply I care about them, ant that can’t be a bad thing for them to know, right?
    (Still, I have a selection of tear-jerking chick flicks to watch on my own after those particularly tough funerals, because after holding it in for that long I need to release it! Steel Magnolias, the Notebook, even Ghost!)

  2. Cardelia says:

    I have cried in church as well. Twice while preaching! Once when telling a story about my grandmother, an acceptable tear up, and once while admonishing the congregation to take care of one another as mothers for their children. I have cried during one session meeting I was moderating when a member told me “You got yourself into this, get yourself out.” And one time when leading in the Lord’s prayer, although I was 8 mths pregnant so I don’t think that one counts!

  3. Bethany says:

    Add me to the list of emotional worship leaders! Every once in a while, there is just something so personal I have a reaction to it. But I can’t preach any other way than straight from the heart.
    One sermon in particular was very emotional for me. I was a little embarrassed to be quite so vulnerable (and I don’t want to make a habit of crying in the pulpit), but the reaction of the gracious congregation was to cry along with me. Apparently, I’d tapped a vein and given people permission to admit their own sadness in loss. There was something going on that was much bigger than me.
    I think true community can only be developed in an environment marked by authenticity and transparency. Sometimes that means we cry in public.

  4. ann says:

    i occasionally cry while i’m preaching. i’m not a huge fan of being so vulnerable in such a public way, either, katherine. at the same time, i wonder if it’s a witness in a world that i feel pushes for effortless perfection. crying forces me to face my lack of control and the fact that i get overwhelmed and sad, too. i also wonder if assigning crying such functionality makes it too perfunctory or explicable.

  5. Erica says:

    Oh, I hear ya, sister. I can’t even catalogue the number of times.
    But, I’ve had the same thing–a sermon where I was sure I’d never make it (even asked a colleague to do back-up duty and come up and read if I lost it.) And I made it. I think that was a Holy Spirit thing–the Spirit knew I had to make it through that sermon and so the Spirit cried for me.

  6. MaryAnn says:

    I have the opposite problem. I am not a crier by nature. Or I should say, I cry at very random times, like when watching a stupid commercial, not when delivering painful news. But I never want anyone to think I’m specifically avoiding crying because pastors “shouldn’t.” I agree about bringing the whole person to the pulpit. Though I can imagine that it would be hard to preach after crying.
    Very good article.

  7. Emily P-M says:

    Oh have I been there! I’ve cried twice in worship – once when we were doing a healing service and my mom’s best friend came (it was the first time she’d seen me lead worship) up for healing because her marriage was falling apart. She’s like my second mom. Once just a couple months ago when I asked for prayers for my grandfather who is dying. I hate being forced into showing my vulnerability. It’s so hard to trust your congregation with that… except that we ask them to share their vulnerabilities with us. Maybe it’s only fair.
    Thank you for sharing yours here.

  8. Susan O says:

    This actually is timely, as I just had a conversation today about tearing up in the pulpit, and whether or not that impacts one’s pastoral authority.
    I don’t think it does. I think God calls whole people, and whole people sometimes cry.
    And I am very, very grateful that I didn’t have to preach the week my beloved pet was diagnosed. Because I don’t know if I could have done it.

  9. Teri says:

    I’m totally a crier as well. I have only cried once while leading worship (well, mostly cried–I tried really hard to hold it together but didn’t manage it very well) and almost cried during a couple of pastoral prayers (which I’ve been leading–you would think that wouldn’t be an issue, but you would be wrong!). I also cried in my interview at this church, actually. I haven’t had anyone treat me like a child yet, though I have felt like one. Reactions have generally been something more like “I know I can trust you with my feelings because you have feelings too.”
    I am impressed you were able to preach after this. I am not sure I would have been able to do it. And I rather hope I don’t have to find out.

  10. Stacey says:

    I’ve done it too, and I also had that little girl feeling. Worse, I once totally fell apart right after a particularly tough consistory meeting, while everyone was still sitting at the table. In worship, a little touchy-feeliness can be excused, but in a meeting? I felt so very young and so very stupid. We try so hard to be adult. But then you have to wonder, where does it say that adults don’t cry, don’t grieve? Maybe our vulnerability gives our parishioners permission to let their grief be more open.
    Anyway, thanks so much for this. It’s beautiful. Look at me, I’m all teary now.

  11. Pastor Peters says:

    Thank you Katherine. Even though I knew this article was coming, I didn’t read it until now. Wow.
    On Mother’s Day of this past year, I was afraid I was going to cry. My mother died when I was a child and in general, it still sucks. But, I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to be that vulnerable, even though I know the same things you mention here. After the sermon, I said something during the invitation to the offering. I didn’t cry — but I came very close — as I spoke about what my mother had taught me about God. Several of my church members have mentioned that this was the moment they knew they could trust me. I was’t an arrogant kid. I was hurt — just like them. It’s amazing, isn’t it?


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