It was the week before Christmas. There were details to attend to: Who will read scripture on Christmas Eve? Do we have enough little paper tutus for the candles? There were additional pastoral duties: the visit to the woman in the Alzheimers care facility to bring her communion. The check-in with the folks whose son died just a few months ago, to see how they were doing amid all the holly-jolliness.
And then of course, there was Newtown. I suspect untold numbers of pastors scrapped their sermons that week in favor of Saturday Night Specials, fumbling in the midnight hour for the right words of lament and hope to offer in worship the next day, illumined by the candle of joy. Joy, of all things.
In the midst of all that, I was grateful to have several kind friends check in with me: "How ya holding up?" they asked. "I've been thinking about you. What are you doing to take care of yourself? This has got to be a heavy, busy time of year."
(Luminous too. But still.)
I feel fortunate and humbled to have friends such as these. What's significant about these particular friends is that every single one of them is someone outside of pastoral ministry, outside of the church, outside of religion altogether.
You've probably read articles about the rise of the "nones," people who claim no religious tradition. It was my friends the "nones" who asked about my well-being, who doggedly inquired about my mental health, who provided pastoral care for the pastor.
We forget sometimes, down there in the trenches of ministry, how tough it can be. We're capable church professionals, after all. We love what we do. It's a joy and a privilege, this calling. But sometimes we need people to help us take a step back and breathe. We need that perspective.
I hope that you have some "nones" in your life… or maybe just friends who can help you take a step back and say, "Whoa. You're dealing with a lot. Go gently, now." We will do that for each other in just a few weeks at the Presbytery of Chicago clergy retreat. The topic is Sabbath; the agenda is Sabbath.
At this retreat, we will explore the rich and complex biblical, historical and theological underpinnings of the practice of Sabbath. We will reflect on the incredible challenge of keeping Sabbath in our modern world. And we will explore strategies and tools for introducing and supporting regular Sabbath-keeping, not only in our own lives but in the congregations and institutions we serve.
Are you a teaching elder? I look forward to meeting you on January 27. Are you a clerk of session, ruling elder or other church leader reading this? Forward this post to your pastor and encourage him or her to come.