A Practical Guide for Priests and Pastors
My purpose in writing this book is to share what I have learned through thirty years of ministry with my brothers in the Lord, the Christian clergy. There are so many hidden challenges in the ministry. It is my hope these observations will prove beneficial to seminarians and others just beginning in the ministry in meeting these challenges. I also hope it will be a welcomed reminder to those already well underway that they are not alone, and that others have traveled the same road.
I am privileged to have been reared in a priestly family. I am a 9th generation priest. From my youth up I have been schooled in the challenges and responsibilities of the priesthood. From my father, the late Zachariah Nasr, I learned first hand to rely upon the working and guidance of the Holy Spirit as the truest and greatest teacher in the priesthood. In addition to the guidance of the Holy spirit, the wisdom and experience of others is also beneficial. Whatever success I have had was guided, corrected and strengthened by our father in Christ, Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba, Primate of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, His Grace Bishop ANTOUN Khouri, His Grace Bishop DEMETRI Khoury, His Grace Bishop BASIL Essey and my brothers the priests from whom I received encouragement and guidance through the years: Archpriest Paul Romley of Los Angeles, CA; Archpriest John Khoury of St. Paul, MN; Archpriest John Elias of Jacksonville, FL; Archpriest George Shalhoub of Detroit, MI, Archpriest Antony Gabriel of Montreal, Canada, the late Archimandrite Gregory Aboud of Brooklyn, NY; the late Economos Michael Simon of New Jersey; the late Protosyngelos Ellis Khoury of Grand Rapids, MI; Archpriest Nicholas Dahdal in Chicago, IL; and all the many others too numerous to mention.
Many of our seminarians were not born in a priestly family. Many were not born in Orthodox homes but embraced the faith lovingly and willing in their desire to serve the Lord. Hopefully they will find Practical Guidance a useful tool and resource in gaining insight into the ethos of Christian ministry.
This book cannot replace training or interning with experienced priests. Nor is it intended to replace a course at a seminary in the practical aspects of the ministry. however, it should be a good supplement to both.
During the past twenty years I have been blessed with the opportunity to assist in the training of Fr. Basil McMurry, Fr. John Salem, Fr. Christopher Salamy, Fr. Antony El-Bahou, Fr. James Shadid, Fr. John Mefrige, Fr. Jeremy Davis, Dn. Charles Baz, and Dn. Ezra Ham. The book of Proverbs says that iron sharpens iron and so one man sharpens another. These men have sharpened me. They have caused me to reflect on the priesthood in ways I might not otherwise have done had it not been for their questions and their insights. For that I shall ever be grateful.
In February, 2003, I was invited by St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, New York to give a lecture on the Do’s and Don't's of Ministry. This book is in part an outgrowth of that lecture. I thank Dean Emeritus Fr. Thomas Hopko for his kind invitation to come and lecture.
St. Paul reminded the church at Corinth, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) I am indebted to so many. I am grateful for everyone who has been a part of my life. With Practical Guidance for Priests and Pastors I can say with St. Paul, “what I have received, I have delivered unto you.” (1 Corinthians 15:3)
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
A. Be patient with yourself and your parishioners. It takes from 1 to 2 years to earn trust and build relationships within a parish. Remember that you are a spiritual physician -- but you are really an intern. You must take time to assess the needs of the parish. Do not give medicine that might kill.
The key word is build. Relationships do not just happen.
B. Don’t put it off until “tomorrow.”
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might….” Ecclesiastes 9:10
C. Don’t wait for a more “opportune” time.
“He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” Ecclesiastes 1:4
D. Get to know your parishioners. Get to understand the dynamics and makeup of your parish.
E. Give yourself a chance. Do not be discouraged if progress seems slow at first.
“Why art thou cast down my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God. For I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” Psalms 42:5
F. Just as you need to know your parishioners, they need time to get to know you. Make yourself available.
“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
G. Take time to read, pray and seek the counsel of more experienced priests to help you discern the right decision.
H. At the end of the day take time to review your accomplishments. Close your eyes and replay the day. It will help you recall any items left undone. Keep a detailed daily calendar. This practice will help you organize your many duties and will allow you to review your activities after much time has passed.
I. Take time once a week to check on parishioners that you have not seen in the Divine Services. Let them know that they have been missed.
J. Take time to make neighborly visits. It is good to visit your people in their world. We understand people better when we see them in their homes, or at work or at play.
K. Take time for yourself, for your wife and your family. Do not be a workaholic. Set an example by being a good husband who takes care of his wife and his family.
1 Timothy 5:8.
L. Take time to check your calendar. You cannot remember everything. Use your calendar to “remember” for you. But then, check your calendar!
M. Be on time at all times. Be punctual. Lateness sends the message that you consider your time, and therefore yourself, more important than the person you are meeting.
N. Learn to discern the urgency of the situation. Time may be of the essence. Respond quickly when problems arise or an emergency occurs.
O. Not every situation is an emergency. You will need to assess the situation and determine whether it is a true emergency. Sometimes you will need to decline an invitation. But never say, “I do not have the time.” If you do not have the time, be gentle in how you decline.
May God grant you many years of fruitful ministry.
A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR PRIESTS & PASTORS by Fr. Constantine Nasr may be ordered from St. Ignatius Book Store 405-755-7804 or firstname.lastname@example.org The price is $15 plus $1.50 s/h.