MLCI Blog

Surviving (Thriving) Advent, Part 2

by Dustin Hite, M. Div., 2010, Christian Theological Seminary, and Promise Road Campus Pastor, Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis, IN 

Hite website Surviving (Thriving) Advent, Part 2

Dustin

In our family, the Advent/Christmas season doesn’t officially begin until two things have happened:  (1) we decorate the Christmas tree—my children delicately placing the ornaments on various branches, and (2) the annual reading of Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree (a tradition that dates back to my early childhood days, sitting around the fire at my grandparents house).  Once these two events have taken place, I know Advent is officially here.  Yet, even before these sacred times, my vocational duty as a pastor during Advent has likely commenced, the rush from one event or meeting to the next furiously begun.

So, how can I find time for the holy amidst all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season?  That’s a loaded question.  I’d like to say I’ve found the perfect way to balance my duties as a pastor with the needs of my family in remembering the true meaning of Christmas, but I’ve not always been that good at it.  In fact, most of the time, I’ve failed miserably.

And yet, I keep trying…and it’s in the trying where I find the holy.  Like when I try to ensure that my kids understand the season isn’t just about getting gifts, but about giving gifts, and not just material gifts, but the gifts of time, love, and care.  Or when I try to nurture time with my wife as we sit in the quietness of the late evening, our kids sleeping upstairs, letting out the deep exhale of a busy day.  There are also those moments when I try to simply sit, silent, awaiting the next moment of busyness, and using that moment to meditate, pray, and think.

The reason I focus so much on trying is that in pastoral work it becomes really easy to count all the ways, in the busy times (and Advent, if not a busy time, I don’t know what is), we’ve failed—our kids, our spouses/significant others, our friends, our congregations.  There are seemingly infinite ways in which we can let others down and only so much time to make sure we don’t.  So, for me, the simple act of trying is itself holy…and it’s not just during Advent that we need this reminder.

So what am I trying this year?  Well, every morning (um, honestly, “most” mornings would be more accurate) I’m trying to set aside 30 minutes to simply read and reflect. I’m working my way through a devotional, the main thought of which helps make real for me the notion of waiting during the Advent season.  With my family, we find little times to eat together, to laugh and play together, to search for a little elf that wreaks havoc on our home for the month of December, and simply connect with the joys of childhood during the Christmas season.

But, the holiest moment of the Advent season actually happens early on Christmas morning.  After the last Christmas Eve service has ended and long after the final family has made their way home, I’ll drive thirty minutes home in silence, finally able to breathe, and this typifies, for me, the holiness of the Advent season.  I’ll quietly sneak into a house where everyone else slowly slipped into their slumber long before my arrival and try to catch a few hours of sleep before my children rise (all too early) for the festivities of Christmas morning.  And as I sit with them, tired and sipping on a hot cup of coffee, I’ll know, yet again, that the one we call “Emmanuel” has truly been ‘God-with-me’ all along.

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The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

Surviving (Thriving) Advent, Part 1

By Rev. Dr. Mandye C. Yates
Minister, First Christian Church (DOC), New Castle, IN

profile pic Surviving (Thriving) Advent, Part 1

Mandye

How do I find room for the holy with myself and my family during the chaos of leading a congregation through Advent?

That’s a fantastic question! It is a conscious effort to find room for the holy most any time while doing full time ministry, but it’s especially difficult during the Advent season. Even though several committees and teams take a break from meetings during the month of December, there are tons of small group parties and special get-togethers to take their place, and that doesn’t even take into consideration all the special Christmas programs for the Church children and your own. Needless to say, trying to institute anything that involves scheduling in more time just isn’t going to work. So, instead, I try to weave in some of the things that feed my spirit into my everyday work and time at home.

I try to listen to music as often as possible. I love holiday music, all of it, from Bing Crosby to the new Pentatonix album. So, I try to listen to it when I’m in the car driving to a meeting or a hospital visit. I listen to it in my office when I’m working and writing and I put some earbuds in and listen to music while I’m lying in bed unwinding at night. I also try to take advantage of a beautifully decorated Sanctuary just down the hall from my office. I slip in a CD into the sound system and settle into a pew and look at lights for a bit, and breathe in the stillness and calm.

Which leads me to the next thing…I try to take time to myself in the middle of the day. I know I’m going to be working plenty of extra hours this month to make up for a little time to myself here and there. So, when I feel my heart racing, when I feel overwhelmed with my daily “to do” list, I take a little time to myself to breathe, pray, listen to music…center myself. I find that I am a better minister, mom and wife when I do.

I love food, so something else that nurtures my soul and connects me with the holy is baking. Most of my job involves something I do with my head: thinking, writing, listening and talking, so it is very satisfying and therapeutic even to do something with my hands. Baking is also something I can do with my children. We bake cookies for shut-ins and deliver them together. I can teach them Nanni’s recipes for Christmas tree cookies, get quality time with my kids and brighten a shut-in’s day all at the same time!

This leads me to the last thing, which I’ll admit I don’t do enough…exercise. God knows there’s not much time for going to the gym this month. Still, even if I find time to stretch in the morning or at night, or do a little Yoga in the office, it’s a great tension release and a wonderful time to center myself, breathe and connect with God. This is my humble list of things that help me maintain my sanity in this extremely insane time.

I pray you will find things that nurture your connection with the holy without adding more to your already packed “to do” lists. May God bless you and yours with plenty of hope, peace, joy and love during this wonderful season.


 

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

Reverend Mama, Part 4 (Bread and Cupcakes)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

fam pic 300x225 Reverend Mama, Part 4 (Bread and Cupcakes)

Erin and her family

by Rev. Erin Wathen, Senior Minister, St. Andrew Christian Church, Olathe, KS

Let me tell you about my weekend. It was full of cupcakes. And bread.

Saturday was my son’s 4th birthday. I woke up and made cinnamon rolls, of course. The kind from the can. I may have accidentally eaten one with him, in solidarity.

With my daughter’s birthday just two days hence, and mine the following week, we decided to make Saturday the official ‘Everyone’s Birthday Day.” So we went to the big city. We went to the aquarium, then out for lunch. The boy child had pancakes. The girl one had a fried pb&j. Then we went home for a low-key afternoon and the making of cupcakes. And the eating of cupcakes.

The ‘off-day,’ as we call that day between birthdays, was a Sunday: preach; new member class; a quick bite of coffee hour banana bread; preach again; break some more bread; ten-minute-conversation- turned-hour-long-meeting; dash home for the quick lunch of whatever; then back to church for an ordination.

And as ordinations go, was this ever a good one. It was the ordination of our longtime children’s minister. Packed house. Tears of joy. And in the laying on of hands, the children came first. Before the clergy, before the parents, before the elders, the children placed hands on their minister and called down the Holy Spirit.
Then of course, the newly-Reverend-ed broke some bread. And blessed it, and called it good.

And then there was cake. Barbecue and fruit and wine and more bread. And four kinds of cake.

I dragged home, happy but exhausted. Poured out in the way that you are after any day—or week, or year— full of ministry and motherhood.

I woke up Monday morning and made homemade strawberry muffins for my daughter’s kindergarten class, on the occasion of her 6th birthday. And then I stopped at the store—because I’d promised to take a green bean casserole to my other kid’s preschool for teacher appreciation lunch.

And then people, I went back to church. Back to the office where I think the thoughts, say the things, comfort the people and hope that I’ve got enough stamina to keep doing this, again and again and again.
And at the office I thought how, when I stopped at the store just then, I’d forgotten to pick up supplies to go home and make MORE birthday cupcakes…because it was still a birthday, after all. And I started to feel very tired.

And then I remembered: Leftovers! From that joyous ordination occasion the night before, there were two boxes, filled with cake, upon cake, upon cake. And all I had to do was wrap up a few pieces to take home. I had only to stick a candle in it, and call it good.

I could reflect back upon that weekend and say, how sad… I have a busy weekend of ministry, and my children get the leftovers. The crumbs. Or—in the blessed or–I can look back over that weekend and say this: My ministry to others also feeds my children. It’s not just that it puts bread on their table—although it does— but that it provides them a blessed community. The sweetness of shared work and word, and a place in a bigger story.

I am not taking home “leftovers.” I am remembering that I don’t have to bake every cake. I don’t have to break every loaf of bread, or say all the words, or care for the people all on my own. I am part of the body of Christ—and, because I nurture that body, so are my children. They are loved and cared for by many. They are welcomed and wanted. They are healthy, and well-fed and whole.

Taste and see that God is good. In broken bread, in homemade muffins, in leftovers shared and passed around the table, we have enough. We ARE enough. Thanks be to God.

Reverend Mama, Part 3 (Dena’s Eyes Sparkle)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

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Dena and Charlie

by the Reverend Kelli Driscoll, Pastor, Bethany Christian Church, Tulsa, OK

Dena’s eyes sparkle. Nope, there isn’t any glittery eye shadow or mascara. Dena’s eyes sparkle with the joy of life well-lived for 105 years. And I knew that when I had my baby, she needed to meet Dena Fate, the adventurous woman who is now limited to her living facility where nurses are available full time.

When I first came to Bethany, the Fate family introduced me to Dena, their mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother. Dena’s tenacity for life is difficult to explain without telling stories.

On one visit, Dena had on her high school class ring. She still had it! She told me about being a nanny for a couple families during that time to support her family during the depression. That was just the beginning of working hard. Dena decided to learn to play the piano in her eighties. She took lessons, practiced, and loved playing on her baby grand, now situated at the end of the hall in a sunroom on her floor. Dena took road trip adventures with her girlfriends and husband, Gene. She and Gene were the first baptized at Bethany. And when the elders take her communion these days, she really prefers for them to bring the wine rather than the grape juice.

On the day I took Charlie, my daughter, to visit Dena, I was unsure as to what it would be like. Dena’s health is failing and there was a possibility she would simply be sleeping or wouldn’t know me. Once Dena spotted the baby, she perked up and we talked a little. Then came time for Dena to hold Charlie. We stopped talking. Dena marveled at Charlie, this tiny eight-week old baby. I marveled at Dena’s enamored gaze. It was this holy moment where time didn’t matter. The oldest member of Bethany and the youngest became the Psalmist’s words alive. “One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4) I saw the mighty act of God’s incredible creation in those moments. I saw love that surpasses what we understand, particularly with life’s imposing limitations like age, frailty and language.

This is just one gift of being a minister-mama. It’s one gift of the life of community called a congregation. It’s not just the gift my family gets to experience, but certainly we know it in depth. Charlie has a gaggle of church grandmas and grandpas, people whose lives are rich with stories, lessons, and truth-sharing. We walk into a room and I know she is loved. Eventually, Charlie will see that herself. She may know it already, just at three months. As she grows, there are more moments awaiting us and women and men whose adventures she needs to know. For in their journeys and living awaits an opportunity to learn and discover who God made her to be.

There is no doubt that learning to juggle these simultaneous callings is difficult. Yet, it is worth it. I am fully minister, fully mama, fully me when I respond to be them all. Charlie, my husband, Nick, and I are surrounded by a community that wants us to thrive and is committed to helping us live life well.  With their help and examples, we hope to be parents that instill in Charlie a love of life and people. I pray that her eyes sparkle decades from now with awe at God’s creation. Perhaps, even, she’ll take piano lessons at eighty.

Reverend Mama, Part 2 (Reverend Cara Gilger)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

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Rev. Cara Gilger and her husband Tim live with their two daughters Adelaide (3 ½ years) and Everly (4 months) in McKinney, Texas where Cara serves First Christian Church. Cara is a Vanderbilt Divinity School class of 2008 alum.

What makes ministry and motherhood uniquely different than working and motherhood? This is the question that I have kicked around for weeks, while, standing at my kitchen counter making lunches, while sitting in worship singing the Doxology, returning e-mails.

What makes this life in ministry uniquely different for my family and for me as a mother than the mother who sits in the third pew from the back and practices law or the mom who teaches second grade? In many ways there is not much of a difference. I mean, I shuffle childcare, albeit with probably more nights and weekends than my corporate ladder climbing sisters. I worry about getting enough time with my daughters. I worry about missing my youngest’s milestones and meal planning is my best friend for nightly home-cooked meals.

The truth is that most of the time the things that set my life in ministry apart from other vocations are a blessing to my family.

My children are not only welcomed but wanted at the church where I serve. My eldest daughter attends pre-school at the church and I can pop my head in to see what she’s up to at any point during the day—try finding that anywhere but select companies like Google. My youngest, when she is not busy charming the church nursery staff, is being passed knee to neck by church grandmas.

There is a rhythm to ministry that makes this odd and wondrous calling of congregational life and motherhood a unique blend of beauty and chaos, humor and grace. Evening meetings can make meals hard and bedtimes a full on invitation for a full family melt down. The law of probability means that with as often as my children are at church, chances are they will have moments where they make poor choices and I have to parent—and we will both do it on display. There is no other time that really epitomizes the uniqueness of ministry and motherhood more than Advent. While the rest of the parenting world is gearing up with magical moments and special crafts and outings, my family is stream-lining the schedule, spending nights in the church nursery, or Sunday school party-hopping. On Christmas Eve when other families are spending time together, I leave my willing and capable spouse to lead our daughters through baking cookies for Santa while I pull a marathon day and evening. It is in Advent that I am most sharply aware that motherhood and ministry in some ways operate on a different time that the rest of the parenting world.

Because of this, here is what I have decided—I am an awesome ordinary time mom. Ordinary time makes up the bulk of the church calendar, it is the rhythm and rhyme that orders the rest of the year, that brings stability and rest and presence to the rest of the year. Mothering in ministry has allowed me the opportunity to cut out on a random Tuesday afternoon to take my girls for ice cream or take a school holiday off to lay around the house in pj’s and watch princess movies because I have the flexibility and comp-time to do it.

Ordinary time is the time for building relationships. We know that if you attend church during special seasons your spirit may be fed by worship or special programing, but it doesn’t give the opportunity to build the relationships that sustain. Ministry and motherhood have gifted my family and children with the time that cultivates depth in relationships. My daughters already have people who care for them and for their spirits in remarkable ways. And for that I am grateful.

And finally, there’s this: When I showed up to lead my first Women’s Prayer Breakfast after maternity leave, and my oldest was still wearing pajamas, and my youngest proceeded to spit up in quantity I had yet to see and have never seen again, all I received were hands to dig in diaper bags, words of assurance, arms to console kids and change baby clothes.

Latest MLCI series: Reverend Mama

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicks off the series below with some introductory thoughts and framing questions.

Brown Pic Latest MLCI series: Reverend Mama

Julie

Reverend Mama, by Julie Richardson Brown, M. Div., Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary

Nothing has been the same since the morning I discovered I was expecting my daughter (a reality for which I give constant thanks!).

She is the best and worst of me combined, and in her is more beauty and truth that I have ever seen in one living being.  Because I am a person of faith, I believe that she is the purest expression of God’s grace I’ll ever know, and that everything I’ll ever long to be is to be found in my life with her.

But it has not been easy, living before and after her. Striking a balance between “Mommy” and “Julie Richardson Brown, M. Div.,” has felt like a mighty act of war some days, and I have learned the very hard way that there is no “having it all” (at least not all at the same time, from where I sit). I’ve also learned–finally and blessedly–that perfection on any front is a myth, and that any illusions I might have fostered about being Superwoman are, in fact, damaging in their insistence that I find a way to please everyone at every turn in every situation–personal or professional.

Enter the practice of learning to let go of what has been in order that something new might be. Enter finding a graceful path between before and after, a path in which you learn more about yourself and your own resilience and your own ability to grow than you ever thought possible. Enter dropping the facades that require more spare energy than of us have really got and embracing, instead, you who really are and who you hope to one day be.

And isn’t that what Church–even for those of us who lead and pastor Church–is supposed to be about anyway? At least a great deal about? God didn’t create us for perfection. God created us for relationship–and it is only in the opening of ourselves to relationships with others that we are able to even begin to become what God has called us to be. And such relationships do not thrive when grounded in efforts at perfection or built on facades.

My daughter was first introduced to the congregation that first loved her by the Reverend Mary Beth Guy, a graduate of LTS who died several years ago. The day I first showed up with my daughter, seven weeks of maternity leave having come to an end, Mary Beth took her from me with loving arms and walked her around the church building, holding her up so everyone could see and saying, “Look! Here’s our new baby!”

OUR new baby. It was a golden moment.

But there have been not-so golden moments, too. Days when I felt as if ministry suffered because I was with my daughter. Days when I felt my daughter suffered because I was with my ministry.

There are many, many ways to talk about clergy health and well-being. This particular conversation is just one of them, and I hope you’ll listen over the next few weeks as my colleagues Kelli, Cara and Erin share their own stories, discuss their own golden moments and not-so, and even offer up some thoughts on how we can all be of better support to mothers trying to follow both their call to motherhood and their call to ministry.


The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

 

 

Love Goes on Forever but Ministry Takes Effort

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Glen

by the Reverend Dr. Glen Miles, Senior Minister of Country Club Christian Church, Kansas City, MO, and Moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; Emmanual Christian Seminary, M. Div., 1988; Claremont School of Theology, D. Min., 1995

I preached my very first sermon when I was 17 years old. It was delivered to a group of my peers at a Wednesday evening service. There were about 125 teens and adults gathered for the event. My text was 1 Corinthians 13:8. I was crazy mad in love with the cute girl who always sat on the front row. I looked right at her as I began the sermon, proclaiming, in what may have been the sappiest voice ever used in the pulpit, “Loooooove goes on forever” (The Living Bible).

Man, was I smooth or what?

Immediately after the service many, mostly the adults in the room, overwhelmed me with kind comments about my work. Later that night I sat with the cute girl from the front row and shared a Pepsi. I said, “This preaching stuff ain’t so hard. I could do this.”

I had no idea what I was talking about. I grew up in the church and as the son of a preacher I had a clue about the kinds of things that Dad had to do as part of his job but I did not understand the daily rigors of ministry (let alone the weekly discipline of preparing for the pulpit). Thirty-eight years later, through the help of many great friends and mentors and the welcome (and occasionally not so welcome) advice of the people in the pews, I’ve discovered some wonderful means of maintaining a healthy and spiritually alive focus for my work as a pastor. These discoveries have come as the result of many missteps and mistakes along the way. I submit them to you not as the final word on what may work but as an example of one pastor’s simple desire to serve God.

First and foremost, the pastor must find a routine that works for her or him. Mine is very simple: it begins with coffee and at least two hours of quiet per day. I could survive without the coffee but not without the quiet. Each day begins with a quick review of the headlines on the New York Times, followed by a time of quiet meditation and prayer. Sometimes my prayers are guided by the news of the day. Lately my supplications have been short ones like: “Lord, In Your Mercy: Ferguson, Missouri.” In other moments I’ll simply be quiet and listen for the rumblings of the Spirit. The rest of the time is focused on sermon preparation and study.

The second thing that helps me stay alive is constant contact with friends and colleagues in the ministry and in the congregation. You may be surprised to see friends in the congregation listed. I used to be very nervous about becoming too close to the people in the pews. Growing up in a preacher’s home I had seen my mom and dad hurt by church relationships too many times. Over the years, however, I’ve learned to trust my own instincts and the lay people God puts in place to help lead the church. I recall a conversation with a very good friend in the congregation I now serve. He challenged me about some of my preaching. My initial reaction was defensive but as he shared his concerns I realized he was right. His advice was insightful and I know that my preaching has been greatly helped.

Listening to and sharing with other pastors has been unbelievably beneficial in my ministry. My wife and I are in a small group made up of four pastors and their spouses. We meet at least once a month over bread and wine to share about our ministries and our lives. Our friendship with these couples has created a safe place for us to relax, knowing that because we are friends we do not have to be “on.” We can just be ourselves.

I’m in another group of pastors who get together once a year for a retreat after Easter. We share many similarities and backgrounds. Again, this is a safe haven, one where we are free to challenge each other knowing that at the end of the day our love and support is never ending.

Finally, I am almost fundamentally rigid about taking time to get away. My day off each week is Thursday. I know, who takes Thursday off? It’s a little weird but it works for us. On that day I’ve discovered that whether my wife and I are making a trip to Costco, taking time for a nice lunch or a drive out to the country in search of a real, all-American piece of apple pie, the time together is priceless. It reminds her that she is still the single most important one in my life.

We are also careful to observe all of our vacation days. One of the unhealthiest things I have seen pastors do is fail to take a vacation. If the church cannot function without you then you are doing something wrong. A vacation helps to keep you refreshed and, honestly, it gives the church a break from you, too.

This is not a foolproof methodology for thriving but I have found that when I take time for quiet, find space for friendships and make sure that I have at least one day a week focused on nothing but my wife, my ministry is fresh and alive.

Oh, and by the way, that first sermon was pretty cheesy but it must have worked because I’ve been married to that cute girl for 35 years now!

Grace and peace to you.

Finding Rhythm

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

DKG Profile Picture Finding Rhythm

Don

Clergy Health and Well-being: Finding Rhythm

–by Rev. Dr. Donald K. Gillett, II, East Second Street Christian Church, Lexington, KY

I believe that we live our lives following a conscious or unconscious pattern that plays out over and over in the way we live. And, it’s in the living that we become a part of God’s great symphony. It’s in the living that we develop habits and practices that help us find peace and balance as part of God’s great symphony.

A few years ago, I awakened to the bright sun shining through the window, the sound of birds chirping and the sight of squirrels busy doing whatever squirrels do. I was struck by how right all of that seemed. I was struck by how the rhythm of the moment seemed to be exactly as God intended it to be. The writer of Ecclesiastes rang in my spirit “there is a time for everything….”

Ruth Haley Barton, in her book, Sacred Rhythms – Arranging our lives for Spiritual Transformation, suggests that we must have “a pattern of attitudes, behaviors and practices that are regular and routine and are intended to produce a certain quality of life and character…in other words a rhythm that represents the ebb and flow of life, the creativity and beauty, the joy and giving.”

Prior to my Lilly-granted sabbatical in 2007, my ministry had a common one-beat rhythm– joy and sickness, happiness and sickness, success and sickness. It was a rhythm that led to numerous hospital visits followed by periods of enforced rest. This was the only rhythm I knew. I ministered unto God’s people until I fell ill. I was actively sinning by not practicing the rhythm of Sabbath. Clearly a new pattern was needed and with the help of family, friends and my congregation I found one. Since 2007 I practice a weekly rhythm of Sabbath by taking off one day a week to rest from the demands of ministry. It helps in the restoration of my health and in caring for important relationships. However, the daily, weekly and yearly demands of ministry still take a toll, and interrupt the beautiful rhythm of life.

I knew more was needed to tend to the central relationship that guides and sustains my ministry, that is, my relationship with God. Thus, the Elders and Board Chair of my congregation decided to give me one month annually as Sabbath in addition to vacation and sick days. This month of Sabbath allows a recalibration of the rhythm that is out of beat. This month of Sabbath allows me to maintain and care for connections with family, God and myself. In this month of Sabbath, that occurs in May, I read fictional books, play golf, attend ball games with family, and engage in DIY projects.

I guard this time zealously because it gives me life! I not only want to feel the sun, or hear the birds, or watch the squirrels do what squirrels do, I want to connect with God’s symphony in ways that make me not just aware of the symphony but part of rhythm and part of the great symphony we call life. I believe in God’s call upon his servant to seek Sabbath. Sabbath is an important part of the rhythm and pattern of my ministry.

Friends, is your life in balance? Have you experienced the joy and peace that come from being a part of God’s great symphony? Are you in rhythm? If not, this may be your season for Sabbath.

On Rejuvenating

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Penwell 267x300 On Rejuvenating

Derek

Clergy Health and Well-being: On Rejuvenating

–by Derek Penwell, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, Louisville, KY, M. Div., LTS, 1993, D. Min., LTS, 2000, Ph. D., Univeristy of Louisville, 2010

If you’re in ministry and you haven’t woken up in a hotel room on vacation with your heart racing and a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach, trying desperately to remember whether or not you asked sister Evangeline to cover for you tomorrow at the communion table, you’re better at this than most of us.

Ministry, because we often deal with such profoundly personal and important matters, induces its own special brand of stress:

I agreed to call this meeting to start this new thing, but I don’t like meetings, and I don’t like calling, and so I sit here swallowing the acid that seems perched just beyond the door of my esophagus.

This person who is a real pain in my butt is giving the office administrator problems, and if it were just me, I might be tempted to suck it up, but because it’s someone for whom I’m responsible, I can’t let it go. I’m going to have confront somebody who could easily make my life miserable … well, more miserable now.

I haven’t really had a day off in weeks. It’s mostly stuff I like, but my spouse and kids continue to remind me of my failings as a family member—so I feel torn between stuff I like to do at work and stuff I like to do at home, like no matter what I do, I can think of five reasons why I should be doing something else.

Sound familiar? Take all that and sprinkle the ever-present pressure to know more and more stuff (which you’re supposed to write down, then stand up in public and talk about once a week), and you’ve got a recipe for crazy-making.

How do I deal with that stuff? Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I ignore it until something threatens to pop—until my wife threatens to have me knee-capped, or the church’s operations manager threatens to beat me about the head and neck until I get done what I said I’d get done, or until I just can’t stand the pressure anymore, and I start doing the productivity stuff that helps me get done what needs to get done.

But here are a few of things I do when stress is the tail wagging this particular dog:

  1. I stop letting all these amorphous demands that have commenced a full frontal assault on my sanity spend anymore time in my consciousness by getting them out of my head and onto a computer screen. I do a mind dump of my responsibilities (from setting up a meeting with the woman who wants to start a new skateboard ministry to the article I promised to write to the appointment to have the oil changed in my wife’s car). I dump it all out, and I then start making a list of the first action I’d have to do to get it done. I try to let the stress of demands live somewhere physical outside my head.
  2. I actively start looking for things to say “no” to. Much of the stress in my life stems from having said “yes” to too many people, committing to too many things. So, I let go of what I can let go of, and I say “no” to just about everything else until the coast is clear. (Then, usually, I start the whole process of over-committing anew. But, at least, I’m more aware of the cause of my stress, and I’m a little less apt to let it get so out of hand next time.)
  3. I try to spend more time with people who help me be the man/husband/pastor I want to be, and less time (and energy) with people who suck my soul. I have to be careful here: Sometimes, the people who distract me from being who I want to be are the nicest and most impressed by me, and the ones who help me become who I need to be are the ones who challenge me most.
  4. I try to spend my time doing things I think are interesting and important. Look, I know there are some things that are boring and awkward. But often the story I tell myself about what I’m doing as a pastor allows me to frame those things I like to do least as necessary for the larger work, which allows me to do them with less mental anguish. But if there’s no way for me to fit something into the narrative of my work as significant, I find out a way to quit doing it.
  5. I read and write a lot. If you work with your head, you need to find a way to have something interesting up there, and a way to get it out.

These are the things I (try to) do. I encourage you to find a list that works for you.

Designate a Day

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Carolyn Reed 211x300 Designate a Day

Carolyn

Clergy Health and Well-being: Designate a Day

–by Carolyn Reed, Associate Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana
Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, M.Div., 1984

It seems so simple that it is silly to suggest. And yet, I know many ministers who do not regularly claim a “day off.”

I designated Fridays as my day off very early in my ministry. I don’t really recall why it was Friday. It just seemed like a good day for me. Mondays were spent catching up from Sundays and days in the middle of the week just didn’t feel “off” to me. So, I settled on Fridays. I have done this for the last thirty years in each of my ministry settings.

When serving as a congregational pastor, I knew I needed a day designated for time away from the work of ministry. Ministry is tiring—emotionally and spiritually. It is also demanding—of time and energy. As an introvert, I also need “down time” to just be by myself and refresh.

To be truthful, in some ways, I found this easier to do when I was serving a congregation and was also a mom of two young boys. Before they were in school, it meant a day spent just with them and when they didn’t have to go to daycare. It was easy to justify the time. Hey, I was a mom spending time with my sons.

As the boys got older, I used Fridays as a time to catch up on grocery shopping and other errands that were more easily accomplished alone. And, I enjoyed the time doing something that felt normal—just like other people!

Since my sons have become young adults and on their own, and I have moved into denominational work, I still have chosen Friday as my day to just have for myself. Being married to an educator has meant that I would have Fridays (except during the summers!) to myself. Husband at work and children not at home. Hours of quiet. Or doing things I just like doing by myself (still my preferred mode of grocery shopping!).

Here is what I have discovered: Having Fridays as my day away from ministry (at least most of the time) has given my life rhythm. Thursday nights are more relaxing for me because I know I will have the next day as my own. This rhythm has likely kept me sane in the midst of overwhelming demands on my time, emotions and energy. Ministry is challenging. We listen to and often take on the burdens and pain of others. We need space to refuel ourselves so we can get back at it.

The break, the pause, the recess is what keeps me going and keeps me able to function in as healthy ways as possible. It provides perspective.

And perhaps, a day off is a reminder that we are not superheroes after all, that we need and deserve a space that is our own, where we are not addressing the needs and desires of others. That fast-food chain’s slogan used to be “You deserve a break today.” You do. Give yourself the gift of day off. I do.