Last week I received an email to my church account which just about sent me packing up my pastoral ministry 1. It was from a broker on a gig-economy site telling me they had a client looking for a wedding officiant in my area.
I have written previously about my thoughts on seeing the pastor as an on-demand service provider. I don’t like it. When people come to me to do dedications, funerals, or weddings without any intention of establishing some sort of relationship I feel cheapened. The word I’ve used in the past is “prostitute.”
I didn’t heed a calling to pastoral ministry to join the gig economy. When I dedicate an infant, or preside over a funeral, or help prepare a couple for marriage 2 I want to establish a semblance of relationship. And if that relationship doesn’t last beyond the event I at least want to think folks might see the value in establishing a relationship with clergy somewhere else. I’ve had couples who decided to not have me preside over their weddings because a relationship wasn’t what they were interested in. And that’s fine, because we at least got to sit down and see each other as people in order to come to that conclusion.
But a generic email from a gig-economy broker felt crass. It just seemed like the officiant was being treated as another ornament for the ceremony – like the flowers, venue, or musicians. These ornaments exist for the sole purpose of allowing the Bride to march down the aisle and “have her moment.” The civil aspect of establishing a marriage has nothing to do with the ceremony, that can be handled with a couple of signatures, and with the sacred elements of worship being either ignored or expunged there just doesn’t seem to be any point for me to be involved. I don’t wish to be an ornament, much less the annoying ornament who is the roadblock between the crowd and the party.
In general I have no problem with the “gig economy.” It makes sense in many ways. In particular, it allows unestablished creative professionals to build up a portfolio of work for folks who would otherwise be unable to afford it. The cover of In The Land Of The Penny Gnomes, for example, only exists because of the gig economy on fiverr. And for wedding photographers, musicians, and florists it can certainly helpful for establishing a footprint in a crowded space.
But functioning as a pastor 3 doesn’t work with any long-term depth in a gig economy. We’re supposed to be fellow-pilgrims, and sometimes guides or teachers, on people’s spiritual journeys. Being told we have little value to people, other than in performing a limited number of tasks they get to define, devalues the calling. Often it feels like it devalues me as a person.
Look, I know this shift has been going on for a long time. I also know there are clergy-folk out there who are able to salvage some sort of relationship which frees them to be a fellow pilgrim for the duration of the gig. I’m just not one of those pastors. I develop relationships through slow burn, and am very leery of forcing myself into people’s lives. It’s just not me, and more and more it seems like the gig is all there is left in this society for clergy to do. And I find that sad.