Century Marks

Century Marks

Occupational hazard II

In a New York Times op-ed piece (August 7) G. Jeffrey MacDonald argues that no amount of time taken off by pastors will address the main source of their stress: a consumer-driven religion which expects them to be spiritual concierges. "The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways," says MacDonald, a United Church of Christ pastor and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul. "But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them." He understands the pressure: the advisory committee in his own small Massachusetts congregation told him to keep his sermons to ten minutes, tell funny stories and help people feel good about themselves. The implicit message was "give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we'll get our spiritual leadership from someone else."

Cloistered chants

An order of cloistered Benedictine nuns near Avignon, France, was picked as the world's finest female singers of Gregorian chant following a search by Decca Records. The nuns' order dates back to the sixth century. Their convent remains closed to the outside world, and its rules prohibit record company executives from entering the abbey. The nuns will film their own television commercial and photograph their own album cover. The album, Voices—Chant from Avignon, will be released in November (Catholic News Agency).

Swear not

The Church of Sweden is considering imposing fines on swearing at Synod meetings following the outbreak of profanity at last year's annual meeting. The proposal, slated for a vote this month, points out that soccer trainers are fined $70 for swearing during games (UPI).

Occupational hazard I

Pastors are experiencing obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans, reports the New York Times (August 1). Clergy Health Initiative, a Duke University survey of Methodist ministers in North Carolina, cites clergy as having a 10 percent higher rate of obesity, for instance. One reason for the health problems: pastors are not taking time off for vacations. "They think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no," says Gwen Wagstrom Halaas, a medical doctor who is married to a Lutheran minister and is the author of The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy.

Can you do that?

Anne Rice, author of best-selling vampire novels, returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 and stopped writing fiction about the underworld. But recently on her Facebook page she announced to fans that she has "quit being a Christian." She said she remains "committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group." She refuses to be part of a church whose public face is antigay, antifeminist, anti-artificial birth control and antiscience (Facebook.com).