Three years ago, I wrote possibly my most-popular blog article ever, Five Practical Gift Ideas for Your Pastor or Seminary Student. Today, I’m writing this while on a 1-month spiritual renewal leave. This renewal leave is a true gift, and I’m grateful to be clergy in a system that has it built in and to be appointed to a local church that supports my using this time to rest, refresh, and be with family.
This time apart started right after the end of October which is Pastor Appreciation Month or Clergy Appreciation Month and I am already breathing easier. I was quoted for an article for the Minnesota Annual Conference on Pastor / Clergy Appreciation Month and you can read that here.
Renewal leave has also given me some time to rethink my list and what I’d say after experiencing several years of ministry during a pandemic. It was so easy and totally fun! Or whatever. Anyway, this new list is inspired by that time and I hope it’s helpful for you. In my original article, I offered things your ministry professional doesn’t need, a list of five practical ideas they might find helpful for ministry, and a final word about the gift of compliments. I won’t rehash any of that here, but instead build on them with a few other ideas.
What your pastor doesn’t need:
They don’t need Christian art. Look, you may have your favorite Christian paintings (even this one) but art is about taste and that is so subjective. Let me put it this way: I have a modest collection of kitschy Christian art, but I keep it at home in storage in my study. If I hang up a terrible painting of Jesus in my church office for the sake of irony, I run the risk of offending somebody who loves it, inspiring somebody to get me something similar, or God help me, actually falling in love with it!
They don’t need Bible commentaries. At least, not unless you ask them what they need. Last time I did recommend a commentary set, and I also wrote select one with them, not for them. Your clergy person is on a particular place on the theological spectrum and you want to respect that.
They don’t need croakers. That’s a fun word from Methodist history, a sassy and pejorative term for those loud voices nostalgic for “the way it used to be” and in the face of change reminded people that “we’ve never done it that way before.” The pandemic changed the world and much of that change was thrust upon us. When that happens, we can lash out at easy targets and for some people in the pandemic, those easy targets were clergy. You can do better. If you’re concerned about something, invite them to coffee for a conversation. Don’t hijack the meeting, don’t write an anonymous note, and in the name of all that is holy, do not say “People are saying…” You can read more about clergy burnout since the pandemic here.
What your pastor may appreciate:
- Your clergy person may like a nice pair of earbuds for the office.
Many clergy worked from home at least some of the time during the pandemic and these days I know many, myself included, who now have a hybrid schedule. When I work from home, I’ve tuned out the world to get the work done. When I’m on campus, I absolutely need to interact with people and be present and that’s a good thing. Sometimes, however, I miss the ability to have my door open and my music or podcast playing at my volume like I do at home. That way people can go about their business and I can get mine done. And if we need to talk guess what, I can take out those headphones in about one second!
This pair of TOZO T6 True Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds have worked like a charm for nearly two years. I’ve use them while taking a walk, on the plane, at the office, in the evening while reading in bed. They hold a good charge, they’re comfortable, and the price is incredible (~$30 last time I ordered them in early 2021 and they’re ~$20 as I write this at the end of 2022, you can’t beat that!) There are name brand earbuds that look similar but the higher price tag is tricky, even with the bonus addition of noise-cancelling capabilities (Samsung comes to mind). And I’m an Android user, so I can’t tell you about Apple Airpods (except they kinda look weird to me). What I can tell you is I have two pairs of TOZO T6 Earbuds and they’re great at work.
2. Your clergy person may appreciate simple and helpful desk accessories.
More than ever, I now have two work desks, one on campus in my office and one at home in my study. I consider anything I purchase to fancify my desk at home to be my property and when it comes to my desk at work, I picked up a modest number of desk items to keep me organized, and that’s tied to our overall budget. That means if I want something in both places, I have to be mindful of whether that’s possible. One item that was worth it for me, though was a book stand.
I shopped around a long time before settling on the wishacc Adjustable Bamboo Book Stand and it’s a clear winner. It has five height adjustments and can even collapse completely flat for storage. It’s tall enough an 8.5″x11″ piece of paper can stand up on it without folding over and wide enough to hold open most any book, which is helpful for reviewing scripture, liturgy resources, and other materials. The arms are adjustable to accommodate lots of sizes and the grips have clear plastic over the tips to retain the metal aesthetic and avoid damaging the book. I got a bamboo stand because my Uplift Desk is bamboo, so remember this can be a matter of taste, as well.
3. Your clergy person probably loves taking notes. Help them out!
In the middle of seminary, I essentially moved to 100% digital. I went from filling Moleskine after Moleskine with notes to bringing a laptop to class and typing everything out. These days I jot down notes with Google Keep and I love it. When it comes to going digital for notetaking, on the pro side, it’s a lot easier to go back to my notes and look up ideas and authors from digital notes and these have proven useful over the years. In the middle, “they” say we retain knowledge better if we write it out longhand instead of typing it. Whether there’s enough data to confirm that I don’t know, but again, see the pro of being able to just look things up, so perhaps retention isn’t that necessary? But the con of going all-digital is I missed writing. I liked cracking open a fresh Moleskine and filling it up over the months. I liked carrying un petite cahier in my pocket on a mission trip. And when I was at clergy gatherings and typing on my phone, I’d invariably look over to a clergy colleague with their cool notebook and mini bag of markers and get nostalgic.
Rocketbook changed everything for me. This is a “smart notebook.” You write in it with a specific kind of pen with ink that erases when you apply heat via friction. You can even erase the notebook’s contents by tossing it in the microwave! There are icons that you can assign to various cloud destinations so with a quick pic to scan the QR code and the page, your handwritten notes can become searchable PDFs. For me, this has been the best of both worlds. Much of my writing begins in the Rocketbook and ends up online for typing. A favorite office accessory are the Rocketbook Beacons which you attach to the corners of your whiteboard to snap a photo and put that brainstorming session in the cloud, too.
4. If they don’t have a robust professional expense account, your clergy may appreciate a gift subscription to a favorite ministry magazine, liturgy, or preaching resource.
I’m grateful that I have a professional expense account at work that gives me opportunities to attend conferences and workshops, invest in equipment and items that will enhance my ministry, and of course, good reading material. I’m a book guy, and that means books, ebooks, magazines, whatever. There are a few subscriptions that I maintain through my professional expense account that help me 1. know what’s going on in the ministry world at the big picture level, 2. enhance my preaching and crafting prayers and liturgy, and 3. keep me grounded in my faith. Maybe one or more of these or others out there would be a great help to your clergy or seminary friend, especially if the (personal and/or church) budget is tight.
Sojourners Magazine is a progressive theology magazine focused on the intersection of social justice and faith in action, of Christian ethics and politics. $40/11 print+digital issues
Christian Century recently changed from a bi-weekly to a monthly format (excellent change!) and has thoughtful stories and lots of sermon-writing helps in each issue. $50/12 print + digital issues
Sojourners has an online sermon-writing resource: Preaching the Word. I got a 3-year subscription for $199.
Christian Century has something similar, with the impending title, Sunday’s Coming. I don’t currently subscribe, but premium access is a reasonable $4.95/month.
5. Ordained clergy need a pants hanger. Er, I mean a stole hanger!
You know stoles, those pieces of fabric / cloth that go over a clergyperson’s shoulders and down the front of their body when they’re wearing a robe to lead worship. In my denomination, ordained elders wear a stole that goes over both shoulders evenly, while ordained deacons wear a stole that goes over one shoulder in a way that resembles a sash. It’s common to have several stoles for various seasons of the church (red, green, purple, white, and depending on the context, blue), plus others with more personal flair (rainbow is getting more popular). You can see a video I posted recently of unboxing my first custom stole I ordered from Devo Customs, plus you can see their Instagram story of how they designed it. With all of these stoles, how do you store them?
This 2-pack of Nature Smile Pants Holders has proven perfect for me for another purpose: to weave my stoles through for storage. It keeps them organized by color, makes sure they’re off the ground, and they frankly look really nice all together. I like that this particular design has sturdy bars that can unclip to easily slide the stoles over and take them out again. That said, there are many kinds of pants holders out there and for ministry, they double as stole holders quite well! One of the fun parts is letting people know what it’s supposed to be for when they take notice of it in my office.
Finally, there’s one thing you can do for the clergy or seminary person in your life and it doesn’t cost a dime.
Say “thank you.”
Seriously, it goes such a long way these days. This has been a tremendously challenging season of ministry for so many of us. “Thank you” can sustain your professional ministry person so much right now. You can read all of the articles about clergy burnout that I curate and a few anti-burnout resources I keep a list of, too, if that gives you more insight into what it’s like out there. Trust me, they will appreciate you taking the time to say “thanks.” And I write that as someone who had a tough day recently and received a “thank you” card from a church member that same day and wow, talk about perfect timing.
Thank you for reading and I hope this is helpful. For my original post, traffic tends to spike near Black Friday (the Christmas gift shopping season begins) and May (seminary graduation season) with a mini-spike at the end of June (July 1 is the unofficial first day for many clergy in the United Methodist Church system). I’m curious to see if this has similar patterns and whether it’s as helpful to people with an updated, post-pandemic list of ideas. Thank you for your support and thank you for supporting your pastor, clergy, and/or seminary student!
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