Pastoring During COVID-19
(Warning: I meant this to be about a paragraph and then it became a whole sermon… you’ll understand – preachers gonna preach.)
This email went around last week:
I shared it with a couple of colleagues. And a colleague of mine shared it with my clerk of Session who sent it out to our Session. I got a call from the chair of personnel telling me to schedule a vacation in place of my canceled sabbatical.
I endorse the message of this article. It’s true for all leaders right now, not just pastors of course. And for some, it will stop there. But I feel a need to flesh out the full story that this is missing for me (not necessarily for everyone) right now:
1) This time is also energizing.
I’m more aware of my calling and why I do what I do than ever. There are a lot of days that ministry seems futile or unimportant. These are not those kind of days. This takes me back to chaplaincy at Grady Memorial – walking the hallway at 3 in the morning while working simultaneous deaths… it was harrowing but you knew what you did mattered. You felt your calling and importance of it. And I feel that now. And that is empowering.
2) This isn’t all work.
I actually buy into this whole calling thing. I’m not simply a person who preaches. I love to preach – if I didn’t I would admit isn’t not the most effective of practices and stop doing it. But saying, “don’t you want to take a week off preaching?” is like asking a musician why they play an instrument. Preaching is in my bones, and those bones – like the stones – will sing out if I stop preaching. Hearing other voices is important… so yes, I will get some other preaching voices in there this summer – worry not about that ye who is tired of me. But preaching isn’t work – its the art that makes my soul sing.
3) This isn’t all work (again).
I would live my discipleship whether I was paid to do it or not. I’m lucky. VERY lucky. I’m paid to do what I would have to do even if no one paid me. I lead as a volunteer in other areas. Those same anxieties on this list are true there as well. And I would do those things anyway. Because I believe it is how life should be lived. I’m just lucky. Because its also my job.
4) I love you.
I am not a touchy-feely person. I’m an introvert. I could ride this “storm” out at home and never leave and feel just fine with it all. If it wasn’t for you. But I love you. I love my congregation. I love my community. And love draws you in. Love compels compassion and care. I couldn’t sit this out. I canceled my sabbatical without question or regret. I will get the break and time away. I’m not worried. You love me too. I know you will make sure I take it. But this simply isn’t the time – and we know it.
5) You love me.
Hear this: I have never received so much appreciation and love as I have in the last 6 weeks. People worried about me. People grateful for me. People giving witness to the impact of our shared ministry. These are things a pastor loves to know is true. We don’t want to admit it because we also believe it’s not about us. We also want to be humble servant leaders. But we aren’t immune from some ego. We like to imagine that what we do matters and that someone, anyone, is listening – responding – feeling like this whole thing makes a difference in their life and the life of the world. And right now… you are making know the truth of that. Thank you. And that goes a LONG way. Literally, I find myself getting tired or overwhelmed and then I get email gratitude or a text and I feel like the Hulk – and I’m ready to take it all on again. Ok… some times.
6) We love the church.
It is hard to love a thing that is in rapid decline. It’s hard to love a thing many people are ambivalent to, or hostile towards. And it’s hard to love a thing that earns that hostility and ambivalence far too often. But that does change that we love it. And that we find it good, and transforming, and essential. So to exist in a time when I feel like the Church is more the Church than ever is powerfully important to me. I feel grateful to be a pastor in this season. I hope I never forget the gifts this season of pastoring has given me. Given us.
So yes. I get tired. I don’t sleep well. I take on too much anxiety and feel overly important. I am overwhelmed by dim glass gazing and guessing and praying I lead well when the consequences seem beyond my comprehension.
But I’m also deeply grateful for reminders I’m not doing this alone. I’m doing what I love. And I love what I’m doing – we are doing – together. Apart.
So thank you all for your concern. Love compels it. And I love you too. But I’m good. I’m also binging Netflix, playing video games, watching my weeds grow in my garden without rising up to pluck them out because, really, rest in this moment is more important than weeds. And isn’t there a parable about letting them grow…