Encouraging Leaders

May 6, 2020

Thanks for your email. I am currently away from my computer taking time for rest, restoration, and Sabbath. However, I will respond as soon as I am able sometime on Saturday, May 2nd.
                                                            The out-of-office response of a WNC District Superintendent
Have you put this out-of-office message on your email? Have you even thought about it?
During the pandemic, WNC clergy and ministry leaders have been working overtime and in overdrive.  You have moved your worship online or to a different format.  You have organized care teams and set up networks.  You have coordinated and supervised ministries to reach children, youth, and college students. You have planned lessons, finished a semester, pursued Course of Study. You have reached into the community to discover needs and find ways to meet them. Now some of you are preparing to move to a new appointment. All this while caring for your family and managing your household.  It has been exhausting!  And no one has super-human powers to keep up this pace.
During May, you are encouraged to focus on finding time for rest and renewal.  It may be a daily or weekly practice.  It may be two or three days off. There are lay servants or clergy in extension ministry who could step in to preach. Record a sermon in advance or use a friend’s previously recorded sermon. Join with a colleague and partner your churches together so that you take one week and they take another one, allowing each of you to have a break.  There are parents or volunteers who can keep the children or youth ministry running for the week. You can borrow recorded music from a friend or ask your music team to cover for you.  If you can’t take a Sunday, find some time in the week.
In addition to maybe, a few days break, try to incorporate Sabbath, spiritual disciplines, and renewal into your regular routine. We are in this for the long haul.  As you read regularly, there will be a “new normal” and we don’t quite know what it looks like.  It will mean different things for different churches in different contexts.  However, I’m quite sure that ministry leaders will burn out and burn up if you don’t take time to breathe, to spend time with God, and to rest.
Thanks to your generous apportionment contributions, the Leadership Development Team has offered opportunities twice a year for WNC ministry leaders to access funds for spiritual renewal.  The most popular offerings were a few days at Well of Mercy, the five-day Spiritual Academy, and other forms of retreat. During the stay-at-home period, those options are not available.  This edition of E-LEAD offers encouragement and ideas for how to experience Sabbath and renewal in these “unprecedented” times (sorry – I couldn’t resist).
I’ll close with these words from Joyce Rupp, also quoting Thomas Merton:
“Shutting the Door to the outside world in order to spend time alone with the Holy One is another indispensable aspect of door-closing.  When we close the door to external activity, we pause to be in solidarity with the One who enriches and restores our inner balance.  We give ourselves to silent communion with our divine guide who leads us to the richness of our authentic self and encourages us to share this goodness with others.  Jesus wisely left behind the pressing crowds to find solitude for prayer and encouraged others to do the same. Deliberately separating from the world’s hurried pace nourishes our soul and keeps us spiritually alert. We gain perspective on our concerns, develop an awareness of how we allow thoughts and feelings to take over, and restore our ability to not give in to unhealthy cravings.
Thomas Merton longed for this prayerful solitude.  Even though he was a Trappist monk, he had to make a concerted effort to find an undisturbed place for himself.  Merton firmly believed in the value of shutting the door:
There should be at least a room or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you.  You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other (people)….Once you have found such a place, be content with it, and do not be disturbed if a good reason takes you out of it.  Love it, and return to it as soon as you can, and do not be quick to change it for another.” (Deignan, Kathleen, ed., and Thomas Merton. A Book of Hours (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2007), 136.
Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self by Joyce Rupp (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2008, p. 130-131)
May God bless and keep you and give you rest and peace!

Rev. Kim Ingram
Director of Ministerial Services and Conference Secretary
Leadership Development