A Long Time Coming

I apologize for the long break in my writings. Much has happened since my last posting and it is difficult to know where to begin. I guess I will start by saying that my supervisor at Central Lutheran Church has gone on leave indefinitely. At this point I will not talk about the reasons why so as to protect his privacy. I will say though that it has been hard at Central in any case. There is much shock, sadness, anxiety and fear. I can only imagine how much they must be going through as a congregation. I knew Jeff Russell for 3 months but they were blessed by his ministry for over 20 years. He was their pastor and for many a close friend. To have him leave so suddenly and with little warning has been hard to navigate for them.

As for me, I had the joy and the struggle of leading a congregation by myself for a week and a half. Thankfully the schedule was light but it was hard to concentrate on much of anything particularly before we made the announcement to the congregation on December 1st. The bishop was on hand for the announcement and planned to make it directly after service. This meant that the synodical bishop for the NW Washington synod was present at the service to observe me run the service solo including preach a sermon (no pressure right?!). After the service he gave the news and their were audible gasps from the congregation and as I looked around the sanctuary I saw inconsolable sadness on the faces of many. Those faces are still burned into my memory. When I delivered the news to our local clergy text study later that week it was much the same reaction, grief, sadness and numbness. Jeff’s ministry clearly touched people on a deep level and the love and respect for him ran deeper than I could have ever imagined.

I am deeply grateful though that despite their grief, both the congregation and the local pastors have not lost sight of the intern in all this. The amount of love and support I have received from them is overwhelming and I feel very confident in the ability of Central to remain a viable intern site for Kandice and I.

There will be many lessons to be learned at Central this year. However, there are two which come to mind immediately. First, pastors mean a great deal to the people they serve. It was clear that Jeff was extremely gifted for ministry and had a deep impact on the congregation and his fellow clergy. The emotional outpouring in the past couple of weeks has been overwhelming and I feel blessed to witness first hand the effect that one person of faith can have on those around them. I am beginning to feel that a bit myself as the people of Central continue to affirm and encourage my efforts to help them through this time.

The second and equally important thing I have realized is the necessity to rest. In this time I have already began to feel the ill effects of stress, anxiety and taking on too much responsibility. We have had two pastors now in our cluster in the past 3 months who have gone on leave because of overwork and stress. Thankfully, Central has brought on an Interim Pastor Mike Swain and I have a new supervisor Paul Hoffman who some of you may know as a former Pastor of Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church in Seattle. Mike has helped to ease the load and Paul is a fantastic mentor. Also, the clergy have pledged their support of me and Central and are looking for ways to better support each other.

 Yet I still worry for those who carry too much. I hope that for those of you reading this would consider your own life and calendar. Do you take time to unplug and relax? Do you take the time you need to relieve stress and disconnect from your responsibilities? Furthermore, I would ask that for those of you who are church goers, please consider your pastors and other leaders who love you and deeply care about you but need time and space to recharge. Social service work such as pastoring can be the most joyful and rewarding but also mentally demanding and exhausting work that there is. So when the pastor asks for a vacation or a sabbatical please bear in mind that these are necessary and fruitful opportunities for clergy to unwind and come back reenergized.

Well, that’s all I have for now, stay tuned as I should be blogging more regularly again.