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Asking the Clergy: What do you wish your congregants knew about your work?

The Rev. Kevin O'Hara of Lutheran Church of

The Rev. Kevin O'Hara of Lutheran Church of Our Savio, Rabbi Joel M. Levenson of Midway Jewish Center and the Rev. Wendy C. Modeste of United Methodist Church of Bay Shore. Credit: Kevin O'Hara; Alex M. Wolff; Lasting Impressions Photography / Jennifer Mercurio

Many of us see only one side of our spiritual leaders — their public face at worship services and, perhaps, at religious community events. But clergy members’ lives can be just as busy, complex and rewarding as lay people’s lives are. This week’s clergy discuss what congregants might learn if they had a window into the clergy's world beyond the sanctuary.

The Rev. Kevin O’Hara

Pastor, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Patchogue

Every so often, I get an email from a beloved congregation member or a question from someone I meet in my wanderings about why I am not more supportive of a specific stance, or, conversely, why the church takes a certain stance on what is seen as solely a political issue. From news to personal opinion, we are all people living in charged times, trying one way or another to address the deep problems of the day.

Pastors are seen in different roles. Yes, we lead worship in all the various ways that happens; but, generally, we are seen as leaders in the community, peacemakers in conflict, educators and the interpreters of God’s Word.

Dealing with all these divergent views, it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed — even while my congregation looks for me to set the tempo of our mission. Too quickly we think of pastors as saviors, and when the pastor fails high expectations, congregants may be dismissive of the minister. But as I hope these words note, these days are just as fraught for us as pastors, and I along with many others are trying to do our best to lead, to work through each day discerning continuing revelation of the divine Word, and to make our communities a better place.

If I would open my soul and ask for one thing, it would be this: Support us as we work on your behalf and forgive us our failings. We/I are just as imperfect as this world.

Rabbi Joel M. Levenson

Midway Jewish Center, Syosset 

In my daily work, I seek to bring healing to those in pain, comfort to those who mourn, counsel to those who seek and light where there is darkness. But I do that because of what I have learned from my community about friendship, how to love and care for one another.

Being with babies, toddlers, children, adolescents, young adults, middle-agers and senior citizens every day renews in me hope, restores my perspective, and allows me to experience greater appreciation of my friendships and community. Working closely with colleagues and others I trust and love enables me and all of us to be more intelligent, creative, generous, joyful, effective and relaxed than we could ever be without them.

There are so many moments — mundane and magical: One minute you’re trying to unjam the copy machine and the words coming out of your mouth are far from a blessing; the next moment you’re using those papers to teach a class. Weddings, funerals, baby namings; bris, bar and bat mitzvah, shabbat; services, counseling, teaching, trips to Israel. That’s what a rabbi does. It’s a privilege to be with my people in their time of joy and in their time of trouble so that I can help them find the divine element in both.

The Rev. Wendy C. Modeste

Pastor, United Methodist Church of Bay Shore

“Pastor, tell us your vision and we will make it happen.” These words from a longtime member were profound. They showed me that the congregation was ready to work and grow, both within the congregation and in the community. This support — especially from the leadership — launched an ambitious renovation project to restore our building. There has been so much progress, thanks to God and to the many people who provided financial support.

But here’s what I want the congregation to know: The real work begins now. My real job is to equip God’s people for works of service, in the church and community, so that the church may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith, to paraphrase Ephesians 4:11-13. Because of this restoration, we are able to go out into the world and serve, through worship, day care, support groups, our soup kitchen and outreach ministry.

My vision — my life’s work, actually — is to help the people to become mature believers, so that they may walk with God and be filled with peace.

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