Do you feel overwhelmed? I mean, clergy often feel that way, just in the natural course of things. But these days, there are ever more reasons to feel overwhelmed.
The last couple of weeks have seen protests in the streets unlike anything we’ve seen for many years—and the police response is only reinforcing the point of the protestors. The pain and anger of the protesters seem to have finally sparked some changes—but we can’t be complacent—the protests, in some form, must continue.
We’re living through a pandemic—having to make decisions not only about our own health and our family’s health, but that of our congregations; our everyday activities are gone or so hedged with precautions that they don’t feel the same; we’ve had to rethink everything we do in our profession (worship, office hours, study classes, visitation) and learn new tools and approaches to all of it.
There are struggles that are related to both of these (and the pandemic and racism are connected, of course, via the poorer health care afforded to black and Latinx people, income differences, employment opportunities, and resources). Children are still being kept in cages at the border, environmental protections are being rolled back, we’re seeing more clearly the divisions in the country—and this is just in the US. Clergy in other countries are having to work around the pandemic as well, support the protests against racism, and deal with a locust plague in Somalia and a cyclone in India…and their own national justice questions.
I’m not going to pull out Paul’s quotes about doing all things through Christ who strengthens me. True enough, but we’ve been strong for a while now and doing all the things. I know that I personally have not had a Sunday off, or a day completely off, since late February. We are exhausted and overwhelmed.
Jesus named a lot of things in his announcement of his ministry. Quoting Isaiah, he says:
“The spirit of our God is upon me because the Most High has appointed me to bring good news to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those who are in prison–to proclaim the year of God’s favor. ” (Luke 4:18-19, The Inclusive Bible)
None of us can do it all. But all of us can do something.
We clergy want to help others. We see hurt in the world and we want to reach out and help–heal, comfort, liberate. It is, after all, our calling. But we, unlike Jesus, can’t do it all, and when we try, we end up tired and burned out—overwhelmed.
Our social justice work cannot, must not stop. But now, of all times, our knowledge of what we do best and what we are capable of is crucial. If we each use our gifts and talents—as we encourage the members of our congregations to do–then we are more effective and healthier. Even Jesus took time away on retreat to rest.
Where are your strengths? Organizing (getting the community together, taking care of details, finding space for a meeting or a food pantry), action (participating in or leading a protest, de-escalating, food distribution, jail visits), behind the scenes support (transportation, making signs, baking snacks, writing letters). Some of these tasks may seem small, but they are needed and it matters when clergy do them.
Know your limits and know your strengths and work within them. My health doesn’t allow me to physically participate in protests. My strengths are in leading worship, in research and study and writing and simple presence. And so I preach about racism, I support people who are incarcerated, I participate in anti-racism training, I am researching the spiritual resources available for LGBTQ+ people who are incarcerated, I’ve recently begun a paralegal program in order to understand the justice system and be available to work in that field as a tentmaker; I read and I read and I read. A clergy friend who is more active has trained in de-escalation; they are also quite tech savvy and so they video protests—they also preach, write and study, and have a social media presence to amplify all this. Those are their strengths. Others write, or administer housing for the unhoused, or preach amazing sermons that get people off their feet and out the door; or insist on the difficult conversations that will move us forward.
We can’t be all things; but we can be ourselves. Take your God-given gifts and calling and use them as God intended—to bring about a more just and safe world for all people. Bring good news to people who are poor; liberate people who are captive, free people who are in prison, heal those in need of it—with your gifts, your presence, your love.
Martha Daniels serves Holy Covenant MCC in Brookfield, IL. She’s been writing since she could hold a pencil, with varying results. Her newest adventure is a paralegal training program, to support her work in spiritual advocacy with people who are incarcerated.
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