Does Your Flock Need You?

Mr. Shiny and the Hens

Mr. Shiny and the Hens

Mr. Shiny, the rooster, and his harem of ten hens showed up in our yard last winter–the gift of a friend who could no longer care for them.  I was elated.  Every morning, I started my day taking care of someone who truly needed me.  I fed and watered the little flock, made sure they had their grit and corn, and celebrated the colorful eggs they laid for us.  They relied on me completely, and I loved that.

But then came the spring, and it was time to let them venture out of the coop to wander the yard scratching up grubs in the lawn.  I started each day like before,  slipping their feed into the pen for breakfast, and then let them loose to wander in the afternoon.

But as the weather warmed, their curiosity for exploring the world became more intense, and soon they were jumping out of the coop as soon as I opened it.

Suddenly, they didn’t need me anymore.

Eventually, I began letting them out of the pen first thing in the morning.  They fled joyfully.  They ate less and less poultry feed and started relying more on a natural diet of seeds and worms.  Their feathers became glossy and they laid more eggs, with deep orange, flavorful yolks.

They were happy.  But they didn’t need me anymore.

In May, the Pew Research report on the rise of the “Nones” came out and caused a stir among my clergy colleagues.  The report found that “the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years…Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. ” 

Some of these “Nones” still have a vague interest in spirituality, but are not choosing to feed that interest by attending church.  Many are completely disinterested.

I won’t add to the many commentaries on this new information, except to say that it is yet another blow to the egos of mainline clergy, who suspect that we may not be needed anymore.  Our institutional faith practices seem to be losing efficacy in ways that are now transparent and measurable.

As I eye up my flock of chickens, roaming freely and joyfully around the garden, choosing their own diet instead of relying on my manufactured Fleet Farm rations, it occurs to me that, in nature, the creature can be trusted to feed itself.  Is it possible that this is also true in the spiritual world?  Might our wayward flocks have the capacity to go searching for their own spiritual truths and practices, inhabiting a new religious landscape that fits this time in history?  Is it possible that they don’t need us clergy to spoon feed them theology and ritual anymore?

I don’t have the answer to that question.  If you do, feel free to share your thoughts!

Meanwhile, I’m going out to tuck the chickens in for the night.

Oh, didn’t I tell you?  Every night, after an afternoon of grazing, they turn in and roost in the little coop I provide for them.  Every night, I lock up the coop to keep the raccoon and the weasel at bay.

Maybe my flock still needs me after all.

6 responses to “Does Your Flock Need You?

  1. Dear Gail, another thoughtful and thought provoking post. Indeed your flock still needs you for their safe survival now, and when winter returns they will once again become more reliant on your willingness to serve them. While the sun is warming them and nature’s provisions are plentiful to supply their nutritional needs, the chickens seem more self sufficient, but once the weather and terrain changes, they again become more dependent. Isn’t that also true for us as well? When our world seems well ordered and there is no immediate crisis to manage, we humans are likely not to see the need for the Holy One or the community of faith, but when life sends us in a spin, we become more aware of our vulnerability and the need for the support and care of one greater then ourselves as well as that of a caring community of loving support.

    I appreciate how you, like Jesus, take everyday life examples as parables for faithful living. May the Holy One bless you and the flock you are caring for.

  2. Hi Gail! So glad to read more wise thoughts from you. This was helpful to me as I am one of the clergy whose ego is bruised! I am also a woman who does not worship on vacation. I used to always find a church wherever I was vacationing and attend. Now I just find a way to meet God wherever I am. So I’m a little of each – a person who loves the church madly and a person who doesn’t always need it. Hmmmmm…….



  3. Thanks, Tom and Jenny, for your thoughts. Tom reminds me that the conditions of people’s lives may influence how they feel about the traditional church experience. Jenny, like you, I have gone AWOL for a few Sundays recently when I wasn’t preaching. But maybe one insight is that flocks like and need to be together, not necessarily because they need their pastors, but because they need each other. So hopefully people will keep seeking spiritual communities and we just have to figure out how to be a part of those.

  4. I agree with Tom. There are times in our lives when the church (and the flock) become very important. The pastor is often the head of the flock. I can say that during the time I was without a church – or church hunting – I did feel a sense of being adrift. But I also learned that it’s ok to take a break – there is something wonderful about spending Sunday morning at home!

    Give that one chicken a hug for me! You know the one I mean . . . . .

  5. I love the comparison that you have brought to our attention. I would ask you this: do you need your flock? As pastors, we reach out to help and watch and encourage and feed and walk with our congregations, as individuals and in small groups. I find that it is in ministering to people who are grieving or people who are healing or questioning or those who are lost and downhearted…that they also minister to me. I am always surprised to note that I walk away from those encounters uplifted, warmed and encouraged, as well, and think, “God has spoken through each of us this day.”

  6. What a great question! As an interim pastor, I’ve found that I do need my flocks, but have to maintain a balance of staying distinct from them when I won’t be there a long time. This may be the trickiest part for me, since I am wired to bond with the group. When I am not serving a church, I feel acutely my need to be part of a faith community. I wrote about this in this earlier blog:
    Thanks for the question and reminder about what our flocks do for us!

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