MLCI Blog

Mentors, Part 1

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 fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being. 

Brown Pic Mentors, Part 1

Julie, M. Div., LTS, 2002

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 1
by Julie Richardson Brown, Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary

I’d known from the moment the idea took root that it would be a tough sell. So I’d spent weeks plotting my plan of attack. What can I say, I’d think to myself as I scribbled potential talking points, that will make them say yes?

What I wanted is for a particular adult Sunday School class to serve as mentors (of a sort) to a group of middle schoolers. This class was made up of generally stable and successful baby boomers, most of them with children grown and gone, a few with a high school senior or college sophomore. Many of them were now caring for aging parents. A handful were already grandparents themselves. They were focused on and invested in all kinds of things, but those things weren’t youth ministry. One had even said to me when I’d first arrived at that church, “Don’t ask me to do anything with the youth. I’ve done that. I’ve served my time.”

Ok. Whatever. We’ll see.

Why them?

If you’re asking that, it is a valid question. They weren’t the young and hip and fun youth sponsors who kept things moving on Sunday nights. They weren’t even cool youth parents that the other kids didn’t mind having around. And most of them were pretty unknown to our 6th-8th graders at the time. Still…I was convinced that they were exactly who I needed to remind a ragtag bunch of middle schoolers how much God loved them, how much potential they had, how much their church cared.

You see, that Sunday School bunch—they knew things. They knew things that mattered. They knew that life doesn’t always work like we plan. They knew that sometimes marriages fall apart and children die and tragedy strikes and jobs get lost and addictions take over lives. They knew these things.

And they also knew it was possible to survive these things. I knew their stories. And I believed that our kiddos needed to know, “Life can sucker punch you with terrible force. And it can also call you back into all its loveliness—into its very self—again.”

In the end, I put away all my fancy talking points. I scrapped the big speech. And I told them the truth, “I need you. I need you because you know things that I don’t know yet, but that our kids need to know. So help me. Help me surround them with love and guidance and witness to the truth that there is, always, on the other side of darkness, bright lovely beauty waiting.”

And wouldn’t you know it? More than a few of them said, “Yes.”

This is why mentoring matters—in work, in growing up, in just being, it matters. Even when we are at our very best, there’s so much we don’t know, and if we’re wise, we’ll find someone who can perhaps show us the way. Knowing that someone else out there has a stake in our success simply because he or she has invested his or her life into ours—this can make all the difference.

I’ve known it in my own life—teachers, church members, professors, colleagues—who have said, “I’ll help you.” And they did. And still do. And I wouldn’t be even a smidgen of the person I am without them.

Who has helped you along the way? Who has made a difference in your work or your relationships? Who has helped shape your heart and your way of being?

These people—these mentors—these are who we celebrate in this blog space for the next few weeks. And in doing so, may we be reminded of how connected we all really are. And practice gratitude for the shoulders of others that we all stand on.

What I Wish I’d Known, Part 4

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 third installment of the blog series, begun March 5th, asked three distinct Disciples pastors to reflect on what they wish they’d known upon graduating from Seminary and being ordained. In addition, LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicked off the series.

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Jack

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 4
–by Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr., Regional Minister and President of the The Pennsylvania Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), M. Div., Lexington Theological Seminary

From the sacred time that President Emeritus Dr. Wayne H. Bell recruited me, to the awesome moment he handed me my diploma, I have cherished my LTS education.  As I enrolled to become a Christian social justice activist and graduated as a “pastorally-focused” Christian social justice activist, LTS equipped me to do congregational and wider-church ministry, and to be a leader among leaders, and servant among servants.  I ended my brisk, three-year LTS education in “cup runneth over” status!  Knowing I did not possess all knowledge, somehow, I often functioned as if I did.

What I wish I had known when I graduated: People Care About What You Know, When They Know That You Care.

While at seminary, I was consumed by the work of revered Black Liberation Theologian, Dr. James H. Cone, as presented in classes with Dr. William R. Barr.   I became convinced that ideas Dr. Cone expressed about the Black experience in America, justice, righteousness, and the church’s work were PRECISELY what all churches, particularly my first post-seminary pastorate needed to hear.  So, off to Jefferson City, Missouri I went to assume two part-time posts:  associate regional minister, and pastor of an African American congregation.

Quickly surveying the city’s social/racial justice issues, I was confident in Dr. Cone’s perspectives, analyses, and call to justice ministry, and was fueled to preach, teach, live, and breathe liberation!  Feeling “theologically correct,”  I waited for what I thought would be quick, well-received changes to the congregation’s direction.  Amazingly, after much preaching and teaching, and anticipation of change, I heard crickets chirping:  no action!

To be sure, many congregants (I do not like the term “members” but that is for another blog!) appreciated my sermons, even the longer ones!  Each week, folks would say to me, “I enjoyed your sermon.”  Also, several of the folks responded well to my weekly Bible study classes.  However, none of this translated into fast, important church changes.  All of this took place during my first year with this congregation!  (Sound familiar?)

During this period of “no change,” I visited with congregants’ homes, hospital rooms, and workplaces.  They invited me into their realms during moments of momentous celebration, and when the unspeakable weight of pain seemed more than they could bear.  The elders and I delivered communion to the homebound, and I made weekly visits to Elder Green’s house to enjoy her homemade potato biscuits.

During year two, this reality hit me:  Change had occurred.  Congregants and I grew closer to each other.  Congregants moved from intellectual understandings of me as their pastor to trusting/loving acceptance of me as their pastor.  This level of change became the portal through which God would embolden the congregation and me to give leadership and service together, in partnership with other churches, that would shatter some glass ceilings, dismantle of a few racial barriers, and formulate and deepen interracial partnerships.

When did this happen?  It happened during the moments when congregants realized I cared about them, that I valued things they thought were important (the pre-Easter fashion show), and that I loved them.  To be sure, they loved me, too!  Their love helped me grow.  They were patient with me as I matured, became a more attentive shepherd, and developed into a community leader and activist.  Congregants even loved me after I cut my three-inch Afro and adopted a more conservative haircut!

I am not sure if the awesome folks I pastored ever remembered who Dr. James H. Cone was, but they did begin to care about some of his ideas and even act on them through the ministry and leadership of this pastor who they knew cared for them, and loved them, to the glory of God.

 

What I Wish I’d Known, Part 3

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 third installment of the blog series, begun March 5th, asked three distinct Disciples pastors to reflect on what they wish they’d known upon graduating from Seminary and being ordained. In addition, LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicked off the series.

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Jose

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 3
–by José F. Morales Jr., Executive Regional Minister Central Rocky Mountain Region

I graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, an academic institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Sitting in the Regional Office of the Central Rocky Mountain Region, seeking to be faithful to this present call, I could not do all that I do as pastor, executive, and (dare I say) “church bureaucrat” without the training and formation I received at McCormick.

With this said, I do believe there are things that can only be fully appreciated “after the fact.” There are lessons that take root in our being only after some time in the hustle and bustle of ministry, only after ministerial crud has dirtied our fingernails.  Good thing we have mentors and tutors, saints and sages, who can prepare us both to confront the future trials of service and to savor the past (or present) treasures of seminary.

Recognizing that I am neither sage nor saintly, I will nonetheless share one thing (among the many things) I now know that I wish I’d known when I graduated from seminary. And it is simply this: That antiquated (and/or boring) church history stuff of seminary is much more relevant to the Church and ministry today than we may think.

The pastor, above all else, is a theologian and mystic, who sojourns with people desiring to discern the Divine in their midst, to “see” God at the mill and at home. Fortunately for us, we’re not the first ones to engage in the spiritual discipline of discernment.  You see, those discussions about the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD and about the historic factors that gave rise to feminism’s “hermeneutic of suspicion”… that was the Church–the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12.1)–discerning, probing, and yearning for a sense of the Spirit in their midst.  For when one looks behind the social, cultural and political curtain of these events, exchanges, and encounters in the Church historic, one sees a people seeking to be faithful, seeking to discern God’s movement, God’s presence, God’s wisdom.

Since accepting this call to Regional ministry, I have forged a renewed kinship with those in the past who were called to a similar ministry of oversight, like Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, and Timothy I, that brilliant patriarch of the Church of the East. And whether we agree with their conclusions or not, these past attempts at discernment can shape us, form us, and guides us as we engage with our communities in discerning God’s word of us today.  For I recognize that discernment is never ahistorical; rather, it requires that we converse with the traditions of the past and the proclivities of today.

In ways subtle yet sublime, grappling with the controversies and conversations of the Church throughout time has actually honed me to be an engaged and expectant discerner, which is what the best mystics and theologians do.

Have you thanked your history professor lately?

 

 

 

What I Wish I’d Known, Part 2

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 third installment of the blog series, begun March 5th, asked three distinct Disciples pastors to reflect on what they wish they’d known upon graduating from Seminary and being ordained. In addition, LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicked off the series.

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Courtney

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 2
–by Courtney Richards, one of the pastors at Harvard Avenue Christian Church, Tulsa, OK

“Mama gives you money, go to Sunday School/You trade yours for candy after church was through….”

The always-great Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” sets me groovin’, anywhere I am, anytime I hear it. And this line always makes me laugh, because really – what kid doesn’t want to pocket their offering money and make it a thank-offering to the M&M/Mars gods instead?

When I graduated from seminary … 

I wish I’d known that learning, retaining, and living are three entirely different things.

Ministry isn’t about quoting theologians, citing historical events, or grandeloquent preaching or perfect chapter-and-verse recall. Sometimes, it’s about knowing where to look things up. (You know it’s true. Don’t act like you remember everything you learned in 90ish hours of grad school. Seriously. Don’t) Like galleries and museums, newsreaders and headline feeds, ministry is curating: taking what you read, wrote, saw, heard – and what you read, write, see, hear – and connecting the dots with the people you serve, teach, preach to, worship with, care for.

I wish I’d known that I was as talented as I am.

Before this sounds too ‘me in ten years, that’s my hero’ acceptance speech-ish: I spent the first week (let’s be honest, the first … ok, a long time) of seminary convinced that I was entirely too stupid to be there. How did all of these people know all of these things on the first day?! Didn’t the semester just start? Oh. They’ve already been here a year, two, several. You can do these classes in various orders. A-ha! Ministry? Much the same. There are people around who’ve been doing it; doesn’t mean my first year, fifth year, 15th year, I’m not still bringing some serious gifts to the table. And it’s okay to think so.

I wish I’d known that BuzzFeed was going to be a thing. 

For the love of all things holy, I wish someone had told me that the secret to life is found in random quantified lists – 13 ideas for the care and feeding of teenagers; 19 things to ask before you take your next job; 37 places to visit before you die; 43 changes to make before your 43rd birthday. That would have saved me so much time.

There’s no silver bullet. There’s no one size fits all. There’s no secret compartment, magic spell, special sauce, hidden key, or encrypted file. There is the God who loves you … this call on your life and spirit … the people with whom you serve … and the mission and witness of living life in the world. Feed THAT buzz.

I wish I’d known that the people who got you through seminary are the ones who will keep you in ministry.

There’s this stretch when you first start ministry, right out of seminary, where you feel oddly invincible and desperately terrified all at the same time. Like you can say all the words and do all the things, as long as no one asks you to say or do anything different. And it’s in those moments that the people who saw you sit in the floor of your student apartment and lose your absolute mind are the very same people who are going to tell you that the board chair does NOT think you’re an idiot, that you will baptize your first student without losing them to the undertow, and that it’s endearing when your voice cracks when you decide it’s a bold move to preach from Song of Solomon. They’ll also buy you a beer at General Assembly, be a reference when you go to Search & Call, and lay a hand on your shoulder to pray at your installation. They will matter in a way you never could have known.

I wish I’d known that sometimes you’ll still want to hold on to the gift you’ve been carrying and trade it in for something else.

Even for as wonderful as ministry is – has nothing reminded you lately? have you not reminded yourself? how miraculous it is to be invited into people’s lives, to be the one they feel safe asking questions (even the hard ones), to see that light go on behind their eyes when they hear a text for the first time again, to discern and ask and encourage and even cajole and then to see God’s faithful flourish and take flight – sometimes it’s hard, and tiring, and you’ll want to just sit and keep your thoughts and your gifts to yourself, and trade your offering for candy and call it a day. But I hope you won’t.

Because the biggest thing I wish I’d known is that saying yes to a God who knows me and calls me anyway, every day, all the time, is the very best thing I could have ever possibly done.

 

What I Wish I’d Known, Part 1

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 third installment of the blog series, begun March 5th, asked three distinct Disciples pastors to reflect on what they wish they’d known upon graduating from Seminary and being ordained. In addition, LTS Advancement Associate Julie Richardson Brown kicked off the series.

Clergy Health and Well-being: What I Wish I’d Known, Part 1
–by Julie Richardson Brown, Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary, M.Div., 2002, LTS

I wish I’d known that perfection is a myth, that I’d make more mistakes than I care to–or even could–count in that first year of fulltime ministry and in the years since. I wish I’d known sooner how to say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it. And I wish I’d known that despite my mistakes (and perhaps even because of them) I was still doing good work.

I wish I’d known how to write, balance and then live into with mutual lay/clergy accountability a church budget. At the same time, I wish I’d had more courage to speak up when the numbers on the page didn’t match my vision of what it means to share God’s love with others. “I know you have an opinion,” a kind and gracious church elder once said to me, “why don’t you share it?” “I’m afraid to,” I said, knowing even as I said the words that they were a holdover from a sophomore-year mathematics teacher who said to me, “You’re never going to get this, are you?”

I wish I’d stood my ground more. Too many times I didn’t. There are more than a few conversations and instances that occasionally play through in my memory, with me offering up alternate endings and different dialogue as perhaps my own way of learning, growing, and maybe even forgiving.

I wish I’d known that when a mentor said to me, “Julie, you’ll never please everyone,” he was right. I wish I’d believed him instead of approaching ministry as a task in which everyone’s needs must be met, and everyone’s idea must be heard, and everyone’s disagreement must be registered as valid. There’s a very fine line between a prophetic sixteen year-old and one who just wants to tell you how to do your job. One’s own ego is often the last to find a healthy nuance upon that fine line.

I wish I’d known that despite my many gifts (and we all, truly, have many gifts, y’all), I, simply by having life and breath as a child of God, am, myself, a gift. And the best and truest offering is of that very self—not my fancy tricks or programs, supposed vast knowledge or particular skillset.

This work will break your heart in two, shattering your soul some days. Other days it will put that same heart back together and repair the very soul you were sure it had destroyed. I wish I’d known this, too, and then perhaps those days when I could not give anymore, when I felt as if there was no point to the work I was doing, might not have seemed such Leviathans.

These days, I believe that the kind of unconditional love as preached by Jesus and as manifested in God’s love for all Creation is both the very thread that holds this planet Earth together, and the very thread that we’ve let unravel into the chaos of factions and friction, finger-pointing and blame-casting, greed and anxiety.

It is an evil, unjust and scary world that we live in. It is also a beautiful and humbling one. In the face of this dichotomy I believe that generosity of spirit and resources both makes the world go ‘round, and keeps the Church relevant. And I believe that the Gospel—teaching it, living it, preaching it, sharing it—matters.

I wish I’d known how grateful I would one day be. For the lessons learned and the lives shared and the glimpses of grace and strange turns of mercy that have brought me here to this place, in this time, ready to do this work. And, so, that said, perhaps the one other thing I wish I’d known is that rarely do we end up where we originally thought we would.

But generally we end up exactly where we need to be.

The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 3

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 second installment of the blog series, begun February 12th, asks bloggers to reflect on their own understanding of how physical and spiritual health connect, intersect and work together.

2013 05 04 15 28 49 230x300 The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 3

Diana

Clergy Health and Well-being: The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 3 (Bodily Called)
–by the Rev. Diana Hodges-Batzka, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lemoyne, PA, M.Div., 2009, Vanderbilt Divinity School

My journey of call has been entwined with my body. I have always been overweight. It has been part of my identity just like my name, my family, and all my quirks that make me who I am. Now, I have wrestled with it and it sometimes negatively affected me. Fortunately, my church told me differently. The message that I was a beloved child of God called to ministry won out.

As I was discerning my call following college, for the first time in my life, I began to watch what I ate and started to exercise regularly resulting in a loss of about 60 pounds. Part of my motivation was wanting to look better and part was wanting to take care of the gift of my body that God had given me so that I could serve God. I did well for a little while, motivated by self and God, but slowly the weight began to creep back on until I was once again abusing my body, gaining back most of the weight.

It was then that I experienced God’s Spirit move in me in a way that I have only felt a few other times in my life, one of which was my call to ministry. It was the first night of a spiritual retreat with other young clergy. As was our custom, we were sharing what we felt we needed from God during the retreat. I thought I knew what I needed, but as I sat there and opened myself to God’s Spirit the word that came to mind was healing – specifically healing from treating my body in damaging and harmful ways by not living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of my body.

During the following days and weeks, I wrestled with the idea but eventually it became my prayer – my prayer that God would help me have the strength to be faithful to my call with my whole self – including my body.

Once this became the prayer of my spirit, I began to take better care of my body – making better food choices, exercising more and losing 75 pounds.  And as my body began to transform so did my spirit. I began to have a better confidence in who God was calling me to be. I began to feel that I was serving God with my whole being in a way I had not experienced before.

As beloved children, we are all called to love God with our hearts, minds, strength and soul.  I love the Common English Bible translation of the Great Commandment where Jesus says, “and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

We must love God with our whole being and part of our being is our body.

When we accept a call to ministry, we are accepting the holy challenge to live into this calling to the best of our ability with our whole selves. And one’s whole self includes the body that we have received as a gift from God. We are called to love God with our bodies – to treat them well and nurture them, just as we are called to nurture our spirits, hearts and minds.

And yet, too often, we don’t see the nurture of our bodies as an integral part of our calls to ministry. In fact, we might feel that our bodies sometimes get in the way. However, the very nature of the incarnation calls us to celebrate not only who we are, but how we experience the world through our bodies.

I don’t think it is coincidence that the times when my spirit is attuned to God’s call on my life, my body must also become attuned to God in ways that reflect God’s love for my very being.

And when body and spirit are entwined, my whole being is my holy call.

 

 

 

The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 2

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 second installment of the blog series, begun February 12th, asks bloggers to reflect on their own understanding of how physical and spiritual health connect, intersect and work together.

Poindexter 225x300 The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 2

Mark

Clergy Health and Well-being: The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 2
–by the Rev. Mark Poindexter, Pastor, First Christian Church, Martinsville, IN, M. Div., 1990, Emmanuel School of Religion; D. Min., Christian Theological Seminary, 2000

“ . . .You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”   1st Corinthians 6:19-20

For most of my life, I have been involved in a consistent exercise regimen.

Through college, seminary and for several years into my pastoral career it involved strength training. I spent four to five days a week in the gym lifting weights. For the past thirteen years, it has involved much more cardiovascular training, running, bicycling, and swimming. The strength training is now just once a week. I firmly believe that my commitment to physical exercise has helped kept me healthy, not only physically but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

On a personal level, the commitment to exercise has allowed me to accomplish some things about which I feel good. Several half and two full marathons, four sprint distance triathlons, and a one-day bike ride of 105 miles. I am not truly a competitor in any of these events. I am a “back of the pack” participate who strives simply to finish in the allotted time and I usually do. I always remember that I cross the same finish line that the winner does – just a few hours later.

On another level, my physical activity has become an important part of many my ministry. When a little girl in our congregation was diagnosed with leukemia, I asked the family if I could run a marathon in her honor. My goal was to raise $100 per mile for $2,620. The money was to be given to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. When this was announced to the congregation, two parishioners committed to running with me (both first time marathoners) and three others, including the little girl’s grandmother committed to running or walking the half-marathon distance. All of us together raised more than $10,000, most of it from our congregation.

For the past three years, I have participated in the Habitat for Humanity Cover Indiana Bike Ride. We ride about 400 miles over a week raising awareness of and funds for Habitat’s ministry. Each rider’s funds can go the affiliate of their choice. I designated my funds for our local Habitat affiliate. For my first year, I was the only rider form our affiliate. The next year, there were three of us. Both additions from my congregation. The third year, we had six riders with five being from my church family. Over those three years, we have raised almost $10,000 for simple, decent and affordable housing in our own community.

I have been blessed to be with some of my parishioners as they cross the finish line on their first road race, or their first triathlon. Their sense of accomplishment is beautiful to see. I have also been with several to the bicycle store as they talk about what kind of bike to get. And I have stopped in middle of a ride or run, and put my arms around someone – sweat and all – as our time together became an opportunity for them to share a burden or a struggle. Sometimes we stop to rest and sometimes we stop to pray. Pastoral care can take place in many ways – on the road in my running shoes or on my bike has become one way for me.

I have this one body that God has given me and I want to use it the best I can to help make a difference, and to bring the realm of God a little closer to being a reality in this world.


 

The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 1

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 second installment of the blog series, begun February 12th, asks bloggers to reflect on their own understanding of how physical and spiritual health connect, intersect and work together.

Clergy Health and Well-being: The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 1
–by Julie Richardson Brown, M. Div., Advancement Associate, Lexington Theological Seminary, M. Div., 2002, LTS

Try as we might to avoid it, deny it, supersede it or overcome it, there is, in this life we’ve been given, an essential, God-breathed connection between that which is physical and that which is spiritual about us. Our bodies, bone and sinew, contain that which is not able to be measured–the breath and being of our souls.

When those souls are not well, the body suffers, too. And when the body is not well, the soul often also suffers. Catch-22? Maybe. But perhaps, an effort on the part of the Creator to help us see that we are more than our physical selves, and yet still accountable for the care of our physical selves.

What I know (finally, blessedly, now know) in my own life is that an hour on the treadmill, or a 5K jog through the neighborhood, is not “time away” from the work I do as a clergy person–it is time necessary for me to do the work. The heartaches and sorrows and difficulties of those I’ve served in ministry–they become mine, working their havoc on my own soul, if I do not exorcise them with the ordinary practice of exercise.

It’s no secret that hypertension, depression and a host of other stress-related illnesses have a high rate of occurrence in clergy persons. It’s a stressful job, to be sure, but we are often our own worst enemies. The truth, I believe, is that our flocks need us to spend time and energy on moving muscles and challenging our physical strength and perseverance. Doing so makes us better versions of ourselves, and the result is that we become better pastors.

It isn’t about weight. It isn’t about appearance. It isn’t about any sort of fad diet. It isn’t about winning any contests. It’s about using the body, that we might more fully take our place in the Body.

I have a clergy friend who runs marathons. “Sometimes training for a marathon saves my spiritual life,” he says. Another clergy friend is walking her way back to health with a sort of determination that boggles my mind and leaves me so inspired. The journey is not easy for either of them, but they do it. With prayer. With intention. With a realization that they cannot do the work they have been called to do if they do not practice self-care at the very basic level of physical exercise.

One friend who knows me well sometimes says to me, if I’m ranting about a bad day or investing too much energy into a difficult situation, “Julie, have you run this week?” I once bristled at the question, feeling as if it negated any emotion–righteous or otherwise–I might feel. I finally learned that it was a question asked out of deep care, and true knowledge that sometimes an endorphin rush provides much-needed perspective.

How I treat this body matters. Every bit as much as how I treat the bodies of others. And neither my body or anyone else’s is meant for stagnation, for constant inactivity, for some false sacrifice of our health to the demi-god of workaholism or our own individual Messiah complexes.

It isn’t easy. It isn’t always fun. And sometimes it means saying no to a bowl of ice cream. Or setting the alarm clock an hour earlier than you’d like so you’ll have time for a walk before that breakfast meeting. Or telling a board chair, “I promise, you want me to spend an hour every afternoon doing something physical. Even if it means I’m away from the office. I’ll be a better pastor for it.” It means paying attention to what we eat, to how we sit at table, to how we approach travel, to where we spend the bulk of our time.

My seven year-old daughter asked me recently, “Why do you go to the gym so much, Mama?”

“Because I want to be the very best Mama I can be to you,” I replied.

And the very best pastor in whatever context I find myself in. And the very best me for the God who gave me life in the first place.

Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 3

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.

Haverkamp 300x300 Clergy Health and Well being: Perceived Barriers, Part 3

Heidi

Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 3
–by The Reverend Heidi Haverkamp, Vicar and Priest, Episcopal Church of St. Benedict, Bolingbrook, IL, M. Div., 2006, The University of Chicago Divinity School

In seminary, one of my classmates told me that her pastor had instructed her to figure out whether she was an “apostolic” pastor or an “academic” pastor. In other words, would her ministry be mostly out in the community or mostly in her study? Both kinds of ministry are valuable, this pastor said, but she urged my classmate to be able to honestly describe herself to prospective congregations.

What kind of pastor are you?

There are probably more choices than “apostolic” or “academic.” Maybe also “evangelist,” “pastor to modern families,” “contemplative,” “administrator,” “visionary,” “rabble-rouser,” and “peacemaker.” But I see many pastors trying to be good at everything, or trying to be a kind of pastor other than who God created them to be.

When I started out as the vicar (or solo pastor) of my small, suburban church, I tried to do all the things I’d watched my very successful mentor do in his ministry. For instance, he invited parishioners over to dinner at his home on a rotating but regular basis. He’s a gregarious extrovert and I’m friendly, but deeply introverted. I enjoy my parishioners, but having so many dinner dates with them in those first few years of ministry exhausted me! I had to learn that I could build relationships with my people without imitating what my mentor did.

I’ve learned to focus on the pastoral gifts that make my heart sing: adult education, preaching, leadership development, and prayer. That doesn’t mean I ignore pastoral responsibilities I don’t like, but I’ve let go of activities that aren’t essential in my context, like local clergy meetings or being in the office at 9am. And I’ve let go of things that I know others do better, like leading youth group and church communications. These were all things I’d tried to do in the past, but doing it all was too much for me!

It will be different for every pastor, but knowing what to hold onto and what to let go of is essential to our health and well-being.

This is a stressful time to be in ministry in the mainline church. There are many pressures on us. But we make it more stressful when we try to be SuperPastor or a pastor we’re not. A flourishing, grounded, Spirit-filled pastor is what every healthy congregation wants. We must listen for what the Holy Spirit is guiding us to be, rather than what a culture of anxiety is demanding of us. Certainly, we must be in conversation with what experienced leaders have to teach and with the needs of our particular communities. But our congregations and communities will only know God’s love in Christ through us if we know it ourselves, and treasure who God has created and called us to be.

 

Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 2

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 week’s post invites us to think about how the blessings of social media and instant connection might, sometimes, work against us as we seek to establish, maintain, and encourage boundaries meant to help us stay well and healthy.

Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 1
–by Jamie L. Haskins, M. Div., Chaplain, Director of Spiritual Life and Instructor of Religious Studies, Westminster College, Fulton, MO (Vanderbilt Divinity School)

My cell phone number is on the top of each of my syllabi, with the gentle though firm reminder to my students that they should never call or text before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m.  I’m not too worried about the 7a.m. guideline; these are college students after all.  More than once though, the 10 p.m. boundary has been breached.   More often than not, it’s not a classroom-oriented crisis that calls for this late night communication.  No, it’s the broken heart; the sibling struggling with depression; the loss of a grandparent—these are the reasons my phone sometimes rings well into the night.  I’m their chaplain; it is my job to journey with these young men and women through break-ups, grief, joy, celebration and sorrow.   It’s my call and it’s what I love to do.

This past week, however, when my phone chirped well past midnight with a text message from a student, I found myself wondering just how this expectation of around-the-clock pastoral support had become an unwritten line in my job description. The student was troubled and needed to talk, that much was true. But, it was a conversation that would keep until the morning.  It wasn’t urgent.  When did managing this desire for instant connection, care and feedback become such a large part of the pastoral task?

My hunch is that it has something to do with social media. In our world of rapid Facebook communication, fast paced status updates, “retweeting,” “sharing” and “liking,” it seems as though instant communication is an expectation held by many. I have a colleague in congregational ministry whose email signature line apologizes for any delay in response and promises that all emails will be answered within 24 hours.  A 24-hour response time and still he feels the need to apologize? How did we come to adopt this expectation for ourselves?

As I strive toward a healthy and whole understanding of ministry, it is these expectations surrounding constant and fast-paced communication that loom as a significant barrier between me and the intentional, thoughtful, prayerful, pastor I seek to be.  I find myself in search of a middle-way, a balance that somehow allows me to remain accessible as a caregiver without succumbing to the around-the-clock expectation for communication fostered by our larger culture.  I trust that there is a way forward, a space that allows for accessibility and stillness, connection and prayerful silence, the task before me now, then, is figuring out just how to find it….