Sandy Hook shootings a reminder of the needs of 'God's first responders'

Published: Friday, Jan. 4 2013 2:10 p.m. MST

Benefits such as health care and retirement can vary greatly. While some are provided housing and other allowances that make this a more livable wage, it is very common for clergy to be classified and paid as half time or part time, with obligations that could never be met in a 40-hour, let alone a 20-hour, work week.

“We had a saying in seminary that 'half time is full time and full time is all the time,’” says Williams with a laugh that suggests he finds the reality of this inside joke only partially amusing.

His father, Ken Williams, beams with pride when he talks about his son and the life of service he has chosen to lead. Just the same, the elder Williams openly admits that the day his son came home and announced he felt called to the ministry, he was conflicted.

“He said he got the call and I said, ‘uh-oh.’” Expressed through an accent indicative of a man who has spent his entire life in central Texas as well as his unique brand of humor, one cannot help but miss the practical worries of a father who knows all too well the challenges of making ends meet to support a family.

Carol Howard Merritt, a frequent speaker and author, questions the model openly. “Our economic model is breaking down," she writes on her blog. "It has become more difficult for a church with 50 households to support one pastor. Even when a minister is willing to live frugally, the cost of education and medical benefits keeps getting higher. So, many people jump to bivocational ministry (working two jobs) as the answer.”

According to a New York Times article published in 2010, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.”

In a first-world and increasingly secular nation, many believe that functions historically within the realm of the clergy have been replaced by higher education, science, psychology and even literacy, and the role of the clergy in a modern world is mostly a ceremonial one.

Tragic events such as the Sandy Hook nightmare, however, suggest otherwise. Even those with the means to access professionals in the mental health system find they need support most such experts are both unable and unqualified to provide.

As a member of this network of the faithful, Williams has particular advice for parents on what to emphasize with their children in the aftermath of the shooting: “They are loved by their parents, their family, their friends, and they are held in the arms of God no matter what happens.”

It's as succinct a response as one would expect from a 911 dispatcher, but with a very different frame of reference. The question is, how and who should secure the funding to ensure those who respond to a call from a higher power are available, qualified and competent to answer ours?

John J. Brady is the Chief Operating Officer of HigherNext, Inc. With 20 years in the education sector, he writes on matters of higher education, transitions into college and career, non-profit management and standardized testing. JB@highernext.com

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