As I write this, it is one of those brilliant mid-fall days where the whole creation seems sharp and clear. The sky is deep blue, with no visible clouds; the air is warm, but there is a pronounced undercurrent of coolness betraying the frost that is quite likely to come tonight; the sun is lighting up red, orange, and yellow foliage as a fresh wind sends jewel-like leaves skittering across the grass, which has begun the process of fading from intense green to washed-out brown.
Autumnal change is in the air. Perhaps it is fitting that Martin Luther was moved to post his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg castle church in October of 1517. As surely as nature was transitioning from fall to winter, his theses opened a debate that shifted the world, ultimately leading to the Reformation and the birth of the Protestant Christian church.
Those of us in the Reformed tradition understand that the church is still called to change. This is summed up in the expression ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda: “the church reformed, always reforming.”
The Word of God is alive and dynamic; the Holy Spirit is like the wind, blowing where it will, calling us and challenging us to biblical, faithful change in a world that needs a vital, active church now more than ever.
And remember: vital, active churches are made of vital, active Christians, who are called to realize that true life in Jesus Christ means having the freedom to love and serve God by loving and serving God’s people.
As Luther himself wrote, “Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss.” ¹
As a pastor currently serving in parish ministry, I am well aware that many congregations are wondering what church looks like in a COVID world. Ours certainly is!
I believe that, pre-pandemic, many faith communities were already facing these questions, as they took account of recent and dramatic shifts in the cultural religious landscape; however, COVID has accelerated and exacerbated this trend.
A lot of what believers took for granted about church before COVID no longer seems so solid. The volunteers aren’t there; the funds aren’t there; with remote worship, even the old metrics for measuring meaningful involvement aren’t there.
Although there has long been a crisis in clergy health, the pandemic era has seen a marked increase in clergy burnout, which may be indicative of this profound change in the ecclesiastical landscape.
According to Barna, the percentage of pastors who have considered leaving full-time ministry was 42% in March 2022, up from 29% in January 2021. ² Leading reasons cited include “current political divisions” and “I feel lonely and isolated,” but the primary impetus is “the immense stress of the job.” ³
It is hard to imagine that the reported stress behind this significant increase, 13% in just over a year, doesn’t have something to do with the accelerated discernment of both purpose and method that COVID has forced churches to undertake.
As we go forward, two broad ways of framing this reimagining that have given me hope come to mind. One is compost. My spouse and HSHC co-founding partner, Karen, is working in the garden today; she told me earlier that all of the kitchen scraps we have put in the compost pile throughout the summer have become rich, loamy soil, which she has worked back into the beds. What a miracle! This means that the otherwise unusable peels, skins, and ends have become the nutrients that will feed next year’s plants. Likewise, it is not as if what we, as the church, have done in ministry before is now useless. Rather, it is the soil in which tomorrow’s discipleship grows, creating the structure for meaningful future work.
The second concept that is helpful for me is evolution. Therapist and retired United Church of Canada pastor Bruce Sanguin writes that “religious traditions are like cellular structures,” elaborating that, while the DNA holds the “sacred gift of our tradition,” the membrane both interfaces with the environment and holds the cell together; thus, the membranes “enable the cell to maintain its unique identity while also allowing new information from the environment to pass through,” which can “override or even change” the cell’s genetic structure. ⁴ Thus, Sanguin observes, “for a religious life and tradition to remain alive and relevant, its membrane needs to be both porous enough to enable new information to enter and reshape the tradition, and at the same time stable enough to preserve its core identity.” ⁵
Our current reality has injected a tremendous amount of new information into the cell that is church. Our tradition, though, is more than strong enough not only to hold it, but to adapt in meaningful ways, forming something excellent and new that is nourished by, and incorporates, all that was good before. Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda. Daunting? Yes. Easy? No. However, a strong theological foundation, combined with the faithful flexibility to meet a profoundly fluid context, has worked many times before. I trust it will do so again.
¹ Martin Luther, Treatise on Christian Liberty.
² “Pastors Share Top Reasons They’ve Considered Quitting Ministry in the Past Year,” April 27, 2022, viewed October 15, 2022, https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-quitting-ministry/.
³ “Pastors Share Top Reasons They’ve Considered Quitting Ministry in the Past Year.”
⁴ Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos: An Ecological Christianity (Kelowna, BC: CopperHouse, 2007), 33.
⁵ Sanguin, 33.
A common theme that others have shared with me recently is their lack of time. “If only I had more time to…” “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to…” “How do I make the most of the time I have left?”
This is certainly not a new issue; people have been wrestling with this since the beginning of time. I know that for me, even as a young child, I would find myself unnecessarily rushing through things and sometimes making errors (especially when doing my math assignments!) because I felt a certain amount of urgency… time was slipping away, so I’d better hurry.
The intensity of this challenge became even more apparent for me personally several weeks ago as I turned another year older. Thankfully, I had a scheduled trip to the west coast to visit my family, as well as some days intentionally set aside to be unplugged from technology, which afforded me the opportunity to pause time so that I could catch up with it.
You can’t do that.
Oh, but I did… although, not in the way I anticipated!
My natural inclination is that, when a challenge arises, I research what others have to say about it. No need to recreate the wheel, times a’ wastin’! Thus, I found myself quickly drawn to New York Times bestselling author Juliet Funt’s book, “A Minute to Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, And Do Your Best Work.” As I quickly scanned through the opening pages, the premise of the book seemed solid, and I could see that, in the later chapters, it offered what appeared to be some practical suggestions. Yet, as I read it, something felt lacking.
So, I turned to another book that a friend recently told me about: “No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear)“ by Kate Bower, who is also a New York Times bestselling author. It, too, was intriguing, but something still felt unsettled inside of me as I tried to figure out how to organize my time. What should my priorities be? What could I let go? What should I do?
Since my research did not seem to be working, I resolved to press on… actively seeking any opportunity where I could carve out space so that I might gain new clarity and/or insight as to how I should approach time.
As timing would have it, that very same afternoon, as I walked into my brother’s kitchen in Washington state, my young nieces (12 and 10) and nephew (6) asked me if I wanted to join them in playing with their playdough. I didn’t waste a skinny minute. I quickly sat down at the kitchen table with them, hoping that, through mushing the dough between my fingers, I could perhaps get a better grasp of time, or at least have some fun trying!
As my nephew busily made a banana and a rolled-up burnt pancake (left image), I wasn’t sure what to do with the blank space sitting in front of me. So, I decided to start by making a daisy flower because they bring me joy… then two daisies… then three… then grass… and then, finally, adding a berry bush that one of my nieces made for me.
As I worked on the final pieces of my now “art” project, I was only marginally aware of how much time had gone by, other than I knew that dinner would be coming soon, so I’d have to finish up. Yet, I wasn’t quite ready. In order for my playdough time to be “officially finished” in my mind, I needed to add some sort of word or phrase to my picture, but what was fitting?
Peace? Joy? Love? As I visualized how each of them would look, none felt right.
Then, suddenly, “Abide in Me…” popped into my mind, and I found myself filled with a great sense of peace… “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” – John 15:4
Prior to my playdough time, I knew that I could not slow time or regain time. However, it was in that moment when I was humbly reminded that I had been trying too hard to control time on my own terms rather than abiding (also translated as continuing, staying, remaining) in God.
Once I invited God back to be my “time management partner,” I was able to return to the two books I had started, both offering me new insights as well as practical suggestions (I commend them both to you!).
Praise be to God for providing me the space to catch up and re-establish my relationship with time.
May all be well,
Karen H. Webster
HSHC Cofounder/Executive Director
Over the last several years, there has been a significant increase in the number of articles that discuss the health benefits that people can gain through gardening – opportunities for movement and relationship development, improved mental and spiritual wellbeing, chances to grow local/sustainable food, among other things – which is wonderful. As a gardener myself, I can attest to some of the health benefits I have personally received.
As a result of this recent attention, I have found myself increasingly drawn towards reflecting on our body-garden connection, particularly because I find that so many articles (not all) touch only on the surface-level health benefits of gardening, thus missing the richness that can come from digging more deeply into why there is such a strong connection.
So, why is gardening so good for our health?
1. I think it’s because what both our bodies and plants need to thrive are essentially the same! And, really, this shouldn’t be any surprise given that our lives started in a garden:
“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” ~Genesis 2:8-9
Because people and plants share the same basic needs, and since humans and gardens have such a long-standing relationship, it should be no surprise that there are notable theological parallels that illuminate this connection.
I have read that Jesus used agricultural illustrations because this is what people knew. However, equally important, and not frequently discussed, is the fact that there is, indeed, a fundamental link between people and plants. I believe this chart, which is far from an exhaustive comparison, is a case in point of this deep connection!
2. People and plants are both deeply impacted by what season of life they are experiencing. Spring, summer, fall, winter… new growth, maturation, flower/harvest, dormancy. Plants and people alike experience different seasons, and each season presents different needs. Paying attention to these changes, and the needs that come with them, is crucial for how we attend to the wellbeing of both our gardens and our lives: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.
In the midst of this familiar rhythm and shared commonality of each season, then, there is also a uniqueness in the needs each season presents and, thus, how we are called to tend to ourselves in each season that plays a vital role in our collective wellbeing.
As we move through different seasons, it becomes important for us to consider some important questions, such as:
For example, some plants have especially intense nutrient needs – such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – at particular times, while others use up lesser amounts. Thus, proper fertilization and crop rotation are essential for a healthy garden. As people, we, too, have certain needs at certain times. Family expectations, work obligations, health/medical challenges, celebrations (graduations, weddings, reunions), experiences of loss and/or difficult transitions (jobs, retirement, moving, death), all may bring with them different requirements, meaning how we tend to ourselves in them may change.
As such, it is important for us to make an assessment of how we are doing on a regular basis. What aspects of our wellbeing (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, etc.) are feeling parched or malnourished? What are we pleased with? What needs might require attention soon? Just as a garden needs regular care, so do we! (Click here if you would like to utilize our wellness assessment.)
3. Both people and plants need others to thrive!
In a garden, there are certain plants that get along well with each other. This is the concept of companion plants. Each has a role in the garden’s collective wellbeing. Some attract pollinators, others suppress weeds, others ward off “bad” bugs, while others provide shade. Essentially, companion plants grow well together, each contributing to the good of the other. Thus, intentionally increasing the diversity of plants increases the health of the garden.
Likewise, we need people in our lives who will help us to enrich our experience, show us new ways of thinking, expose our blind spots, and generally round out our human experience. Moreover, we also need to be willing to do this for other people, too. As with a garden, “mono-culture” is also detrimental to humans as we move through life’s various seasons.
As we enter into the summer season, I want to challenge you to do some digging around in your figurative and/or literal garden and ask yourself:
May all be well,
Karen H. Webster
HSHC Co-founder/Executive Director
Would you like some more ideas? Have stories about what has been successful in your congregation? We’d love to hear from you! Click here to contact us.
Karen and Travis Webster
* Please note: following any of the links in this post will take you to sites containing third-party content.
While January is sort of a let-down month for some people, I, personally, find it to be one of my favorite times of the year. With all of the hopes and possibilities that lie before me, I experience it to be quite energizing! Since, over the last several years, this has paired up with the beginning of the 16-week marathon training plans I began each January, I need all the energy I can get.
This year, however, I chose to take on a different kind of “marathon training plan.”
Rather than physically train in order to run a marathon, I decided to register at the beginning of January for a 15-week intensive online course focused on “Digital and Collaborative Teaching and Learning.” Plus, just to make sure I wanted to commit myself to such an undertaking (one in which I would have never imagined enrolling… kind of like when I signed up for my first marathon), I took a free, one-week online course on “Transforming Digital Learning” and loved it.
In other words, this year, I decided (God called me) to take on the challenge of 16 weeks of intense sitting (or standing) in front of my laptop and persevering through each and every mental “workout” (homework assignment) so that I could become better equipped to serve in the ministry (vocational marathon) to which God has called me… despite the numerous hours I had already spent in front of my screen due to COVID!
So how is my training going as I’m about to enter week 7 (almost halfway done)? My brain and body are exhausted, but I am loving the experience every step of the way… most of the time!
As a result of taking the class, I have found some new favorite ministry tools and resources, and wanted to share 4 of them with you:
Audacity: a free, easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder.
Canva: featuring a SUPER user-friendly interface, this free resource allows you to create flyers, social media posts, videos, cards, presentations, photo collages, and more.
Padlet: an online digital bulletin board (and so much more!)
OpenShot: a free, open-source, easy-to-use video editor.
And, another result of participating in my online course “marathon training program” is that, despite my best efforts, I’ve found myself having to be even more mindful of my screen time and lack of movement (again, COVID had already made that challenging enough).
Here are some resources that have helped me address both of these health challenges:
Again, since there are so many wonderful tools and resources available for us to use in our various ministries (whether it is serving in churches, nonprofits, as chaplains, or something else), I hope that one or two of these will be helpful for you. Please take a moment and share your favorites via the Padlet link!
Peace be with you wherever your ministry takes you!
Karen H. Webster
HSHC Co-founder/Executive Director
* Please note: following any of the links in this post will take you to sites containing third-party content.
This past spring, my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania after having lived in the South for the past eleven years.
One of the changes I found myself recently needing to take advantage of was a forecasted warmer fall day to finish preparing our garden for the upcoming winter months.
Up until that point, I had already pushed off the task of laying a blanket of mulch on our garden to protect our newly established fruit bushes and other perennial plants for several weeks, in part because I didn’t feel like working outside in the cooler weather, but even more because I had been constantly feeling the pressure to get my work done – deadlines were looming, and I was already anticipating the stress that comes from the busyness of the holiday season.
However, between the gift of a warmer day and the extended weather forecast, which was projecting some very cold upcoming nights, I found myself no longer able to… Click to Read More
April 2020 – Here is what one of our Lenten Challenge participants shared about their experience this year…
“I signed up for the Lenten challenge because for me, it helps to have structure to my spiritual time. The reflections each week that were sent helped to center the topic for that week. During that week, each day presented a different way of looking at the topic.
For example, the week on “honesty” included questions directed about honesty and God, honesty and self, honesty and loved ones, honesty and my community, honesty and creation. Some of these were extremely personal for me, like, how honest am I with God?
Some were not as pertinent, such as honesty and creation, although I’m concerned about creation and environment, that is not a priority for me right now. I really had to think about some of the questions posed, which was good during the Lenten season, as we can use that time to reflect.
The topic of forgiveness was most personal for me, as I question whether I have truly forgiven those who have hurt me. I think I have, but I need to reach out to God and ask for help if I have not been able to forgive. I also need to forgive myself constantly, as most people say, “you are too hard on yourself”. Funny to be thinking of forgiveness in relation to me; may God help me in this area. The Lenten reflection ended with a “bonus” week, that of Holy Week. I was so glad to end the Lenten challenge with “Christ is risen.”
Reflection by Sue Buchholz from Atlanta, GA, Lenten Challenge Participant
Dealing with the physical aspects of COVID has received a lot of attention in media. However, the mental, emotional, and spiritual impacts COVID is having, particularly among COVID survivors, need far greater awareness than it is currently receiving. In order to get a better understanding of the impact of COVID on these other aspects of health, Karen Webster, HSHC Executive Director, recently interviewed a community of faith member who shared their COVID journey. To learn more, check out their Q&A session below.
When did you have COVID, and how did you experience it?
“I had COVID in mid-November, and I’ve no idea where I got it. I wore masks everywhere. I started coming down with COVID symptoms right in the midst of celebrating my husband’s mother’s 90th birthday with a very small gathering of close family members, followed the next day by our daughter celebrating her 16th birthday with a very small group of her closest friends in our front yard with everyone wearing masks and socially distancing themselves.
Since we had visited family out-of-town, my husband’s boss had said, ‘I want you to get a COVID test before you come back to work.’ My husband’s result turned up negative and, for a moment, I thought I would be ok, but mine, however, turned up positive. And I just remember thinking to myself, “What? How can this be?” I was shocked and mortified.
My husband immediately called his 90-year-old mother, and he, too, started panicking because it was his side of the family we had just visited – his brother, who’s over 60, sister-in-law, his niece, and nephew. I immediately started having a shame panic attack.
The first person I called was my mom, and she said to me, “Well, did you get tested before you went?” She immediately made me feel even worse than I was already feeling about myself and all my regrets, the guilt. I hung up and cried. What did I just do? I just endangered all of these people. The people I love the most could die now. It’s my fault. I’m sick… That was the worst hour.
Whom did you feel comfortable telling/who was your support network?
“I’m a private person, so normally I would not have told anybody else. However, in this instance, I had to share the news with my husband’s family and the people who attended my daughter’s birthday party, which included telling my four closest friends who had been at the party… crying. In terms of my support network, I told my friends because I had to, but really it was only my husband and daughter. COVID is very isolating. First, you’re told to quarantine, and then, if you’re feeling shameful about it, it is a super isolating disease.”
What messages were you receiving that impacted how and with whom you shared your diagnosis? How did those make you feel about your diagnosis?
“Internally, I thought, ‘How could I have done this to people?… holding on tightly to shame and regret. Externally, my friends said to me, “You know, you didn’t do anything wrong. You were careful.” Through the process of sharing with my four friends, I felt cared for. And then, because they interacted with other people I knew, they would tell me, “Oh, I told so-and-so, and they’re really concerned about you,” and my first reaction inside would be, “You told them!?” I really didn’t want anybody outside of my super tight inner circle to know because I was afraid I was going to be judged. And the thing that surprised me and I did not anticipate is anyone being concerned about me and my health. Rather, I had been thinking, “I’m bad.. Are they going to be mad at me? They’re judging me…Who did I almost kill?”
What could your faith community have done to support you while you were sick? Is there any support you would like from them now?
In terms of my faith community, I emailed my two pastors because I knew they were safe people to tell and that they were there for me. They wrote back, “Oh no, let me know if there’s anything I can do.” And that was it. Looking back, I think what would have been helpful was to have received a phone call from one of, or both of them, to help me discern what I needed because at the time, I did not know what I needed!
I also serve on one of the congregation’s leadership teams, and, at first, I didn’t tell them because it didn’t occur to me. However, at a meeting shortly after my illness, someone started asking about how those in church could “help those people.” This upset me and, without having planned through what I was going to say, I immediately jumped in and shared my experience as a COVID survivor.
COVID is challenging enough physically, and then to add the stigma… you must have caught COVID by not wearing a mask or doing something you shouldn’t have done or going somewhere or not washing your hands or not doing something you should have done… I’ve even caught myself thinking, “Well, of course, that person got it, because they…” From a cultural-global-spiritual perspective, COVID is really highlighting our biases, stereotypes, judgments, and hypocrisies. The committee appreciated that I brought this awareness to them while, at the same time, I experienced being cared for.
Any final thoughts?
“I grew up in the eighties during the AIDS epidemic. My immediate reaction after having gotten the positive test for COVID was a deep, new compassion and empathy for people who had AIDS. In the eighties, we heard about them, and we judged them. Having COVID, I realized that they not only had to deal with being physically sick, but they also had to deal with mental and emotional pain from being stigmatized… guilt, shame, “Who got sick because of me?” It would be interesting to talk to someone who also had coronavirus and AIDS and see if it’s any kind of similarity.”
Reflecting on my experience spiritually, the only thing I can compare having COVID to is all of the grief, despair, and complete brokenness I felt when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and died, a six-week process from diagnosis to death. Through the experience of the brokenness I felt after my dad died, I learned that I was loved not because of how much I do and who I am (type A, high achiever, successful athlete), but I learned that people loved me, and I was lovable even at my worst, my most broken. And my experience with COVID was learning that lesson again, on another level. So, actually, it has been a very cool spiritual period.”
By: Karen Webster
One of the ways we have been tending to our overall health and wellbeing over the last several months is by being more intentional about making space for play in our lives, which we confess is one of the first things we let go of when we are feeling anxious or pressured to be “productive.” For example, several months ago, Travis and I made a commitment to spend more time doing jigsaw puzzles. This was something we had not done in almost 18 years of marriage. While we may not be the fastest “puzzlers,” we have thoroughly enjoyed how working on puzzles quiets our minds as we set aside our “to-do lists” and the concerns of the day simply to focus on shapes, colors, and the subtle nuances of the puzzle pieces. This has helped lower our stress and improve our sense of wellbeing.
In addition to puzzles, we have also tried to be more open to playing games. The most recent new one we tried was Drawful 2 (more details to follow), to which my brother and his family introduced us several weeks ago during a visit.
Having lived apart from my family for 10+ years has meant that we have long been using internet video calls to communicate, which, thankfully, helped lessen the online learning curve and quick transition that COVID made necessary. Who would have imagined a year ago that we would be attending church services, baby showers, birthdays, and graduations, as well as playing games with family and friends, online? While these online gatherings are not ideal, we are thankful for the opportunity to connect and be in a relationship with others, especially given the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual toll that the pandemic is continuing to have on our lives.
For those who are not familiar with Drawful 2 (a game that can be played well either in person or via Zoom, Skype, or Facetime), each player receives a “unique” (that is, weird!) prompt that they must try to draw on their mobile devices (without the ability to erase once you start drawing!). For example, when playing with my family (dad, brother, sister-in-law, and two young nieces), we had to draw things such as “a pool full of salad,” “summer tuxedo,” and “throwing shadow.” After each “artist” presents their work, everyone else anonymously proposes a title for this bizarre drawing.
The goal is to somehow find the correct prompt while fooling other players into selecting your decoy answer, both of which earn you points. Ultimately, the person who receives the most points “wins.” However, with the amount of laughter the game produced when we played, we thought everybody “won” in terms of its positive impact on our mental and emotional health!
Now, of course, we could not help but think theologically about the parallels between playing Drawful 2 and dealing with COVID. Here are some of our reflections:
Making time for play, particularly with our friends and families, is, in our experience, one of the best ways we can all tend to our overall health and wellbeing, both during this anxious time and into the future.
Want to add some (socially safe) play to your life? Here are three recommendations. Note: the games range from easy to complicated, 2 minutes to several hours, kid-friendly to experts-only, and few to many players!
By: Karen Webster
This summer Healthy Seminarians-Healthy Church has the wonderful opportunity for Lucas Mburu, a 2nd year MATS student at CTS, to complete a part-time supervised ministry with us in partnership with Columbia Presbyterian Church. Lucas’ internship focuses on “Building Flourishing Communities,” an area where he holds great passion and aspires to carry forth after completing his studies.
Lucas has served as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in Kenya since 2013. Currently his family (wife and two children) are living in Nairobi, Kenya. Earlier this summer, Karen Webster, HSHC executive director, sat down with Lucas and asked him to share his perspectives on health and wholeness as they relate to seminarians and clergy and what similarities and differences he observes between the US and Kenya. To Karen’s surprise, Lucas told her that clergy must have a heart condition!
Learn more about this “heart condition” and what Lucas shared below in their Q&A session.
How would you define health, wellbeing, and wholeness?
Growing up I was socialized to think that the terms “health,” “wellbeing,” and “wholeness” meant the same and could be used interchangeably. A person was healthy, well, or whole if they were not sick or did not depict any sign of hurting physically. Happiness, productivity, and complaints were used by society to judge people’s health; however, health was interpreted mainly as the absence of physical sickness.
As my worldview grew, I discovered that it was naive to imagine humans as merely physical beings and to see health as solely the absence of physical sickness. Seeing health in only one way is a denial that humans are complex beings. Who we are is deeply shaped by our traditions and narratives, which give meaning to our lives and impacts our overall health and wellbeing.
What do you think it means to be a healthy seminarian?
A healthy seminarian is able to perceive and discern several things with an open mind: their calling; their environment, their time, and God’s love for them as they relate physically, emotionally, socially, rationally, and spiritually within their environment. Each of these dimensions are important indicators of health and wholeness.
What would you consider to be a healthy clergy person?
A clergy person’s environment is extremely demanding, more so than seminarians, as it drains them physically, emotionally, socially, rationally, and spiritually. Having served as a pastor, my interpretation of a healthy clergy person begins with an understanding of God’s love that was revealed in Jesus Christ. They are convinced that the love of God needs nothing to qualify it apart from what God has already done in the person of Jesus Christ. They are called into God’s on-going work, which requires love for God, neighbor, and self. They see their ministry as an intertwined relationship of these three without jeopardizing one for the other.
A healthy clergy person portrays a heart condition that embraces time for God, neighbor, and self. This heart condition should recognize the relationship between these three as interconnected, necessary, and a challenge to maintain.
What you describe sounds different from the heart conditions many of us are accustomed to thinking about (heart attacks, murmurs, leaky values, etc.). Tell me more!
This kind of heart condition involves a clergy person’s ability to see service to any of the three (God, neighbor, and self) as important because service to one cannot be done separately from the other. Healthy clergy are able to balance their commitment to each of these aspects in their lives.
Do you have any other thoughts about what it means to be a healthy seminarian and clergy person?
I have grappled with this question subconsciously, but not in detail. Sometimes I find myself in deep thought about burnout and frustrations that burdened my fellow seminarians and ministers. Sometimes I feel as if I am an unhealthy seminarian and clergy person. My traditions and narratives surrounding seminarians and clergy stereotypically imply that they enjoy a divine relationship, which privileges and burdens them in different ways than lay people. This relationship privileges them with good health irrespective of their context. I suspect this stereotypical view is shared by both clergy and laity. This view leaves clergy and seminarians devoid of wholeness because it does not recognize humanity and vulnerability. I think the health of seminarians and clergy persons needs to be prioritized during their study and while serving as ministers.
What have you observed during your time in the US as it relates to clergy health and well-being?
One major difference I have observed is the communal way in which people in my country live compared to the individual way people live in the US.
I have not seen in the US intentional time set aside for people to fellowship with their pastors nor time set aside by the congregation to care for the well-being of their clergy. Also, in Kenya we have organized fellowship between clergy that encourages the use of holidays, celebrations, and further learning.
In the US, the relationship I see between a pastor and their congregation is being played out as employees and employers. Pastoring is seen as individual work, which isolates clergy by discouraging the congregation’s involvement in the church work and prevents them from building relationships with their pastor. This employee-employer relationship does not recognize the important part that community plays in individual health, especially their social and emotional well-being.
Any final thoughts?
Though people have various ways of defining health depending on their context, this belief does not preempt the possibility of a common thread. Based on the scripture, “You shall love your God … …, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27), I suggest that this common thread is a relationship between the community of God, neighbor, and self. The healthier the thread, the healthier one’s health. One’s vocational calling is a cyclic web from God to neighbor to self. Investing time and resources in safeguarding the health of these relationships is essential to our calling.
You can learn more about Lucas here.