September 2020

Fires, and hurricanes, and pandemics; oh, my! While it doesn’t have the familiar cadence of lions, tigers, and bears, the times we’re living through are traumatic and frightening. Yet even now, new possibilities are emerging, hope is being found in individuals and movements and change that could only be imaginable eight months ago. The impacts on the church and on ministry cannot be overstated. The church and the ways people minister have not only changed radically, it’s likely that these changes will continue, reshaping life and faith.

Committee on Ministry denominational practices are adapting, alongside shifting priorities. Online meetings are becoming increasingly normalized, and some have been experimenting with online rituals and church rites that have been deeply Spirit-filled. Thank you for the ways you have discerned and navigated to meet these times. Change is difficult, and ongoing change and adaptation is incredibly hard to sustain. Clergy are feeling the weight of this. Whether as local pastors shifting from hands-on faith community formation to becoming content curators, editors and digital specialists, as chaplains have been stretched by overwhelming patient care amidst dangerous working environments, or as specialized ministers working hard to fill gaps to creatively serve and sustain, it is heavy. And many have family caregiving responsibilities alongside their pastoral vocation.

The Wisconsin Council of Churches has been a leader in assessing and navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, offering both tangible resources and maps for decision-making. In recent weeks, the WCC has conducted a study on the effects of this pandemic, receiving over 400 responses. The results of this ecumenical study hold up what many are witnessing within the UCC. Twenty-five percent of clergy are contemplating resignation, and ten percent have experienced a threat to their position due to the pandemic. Underneath these statistics is the pain and brokenness of ministers, who are struggling to maintain health and well-being in addition to their ministries.

Many conferences have been offering a weekly or monthly check-in to provide connection and support to clergy – and this has been lifesaving. At the same time, this sort of support needs to shift so that it both attends to those who haven’t availed themselves of those offerings, and anticipates the deeper needs for mental healthcare, discernment, and leave-taking that are likely to become more evident in coming months. Communities of Practice are another avenue to help promote the flourishing of clergy in all seasons.

Committees of Ministry have a unique opportunity to engage these questions and provide resources by intentionally connecting to all MIDs and authorized ministers, as well as increasing opportunities for peer support, vocational support, and situational support consultations. Finally, in addition to cultivating multiple strategies for prevention, Committees on Ministry are well-served by anticipating how they might pastorally respond to an increase in potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms and burnout among clergy.

Questions to consider:

  • Who are the trusted psychotherapists and pastoral counselors who would be affirming of the diversity of identities and theologies of your authorized ministers?
  • Where are the links to spiritual directors and how are you offering small group support such as Communities of Practice, coaching or cohort groups?
  • Who offers a sliding scale and what financial assistance exists?
  • What are the sound support and treatment options when attempts to meet needs cross into addictive behaviors?
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