The Alban Institute discusses how clergy can take care of their own needs for support and care in crises to better pastor in the midst of parishioners’ needs.
A single parent, Deborah recalls that during her first month as pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in Western Pennsylvania, she performed nine funerals, four of which related to a boating accident. Already weary from moving across country to a new parsonage and getting to know a new congregation, Deborah knew that she soon would be spiritually and relationally depleted if she did not take time for self-care and personal and professional support. She asked her recently retired parents to come visit for two weeks to help her organize the house, cook meals, and care for her ten-year-old son. She also called her regional judicatory official for a referral to a spiritual director who would help her stay “spiritually grounded during this time of congregational crisis and personal stress.” In addition, she also sought out the spiritual and professional counsel of two experienced women pastors in the area. Several years later, Deborah still meets regularly with her spiritual director and has become close friends with the colleagues she initially called upon for nurture and support during this critical time.
Healthy interdependence, grounded in the recognition that we live in a dynamic web of relationships, palpably strengthens us and reminds us that we are all in this together. We have come to realize that within the body of Christ, there is no ultimate distinction between giver and receiver, healthy and sick, pastor and layperson, caregiver and patient. When we face our own vulnerability and fear embraced by God’s faithful companionship and the gifts of faithful friends and communities, we discover strength in our weakness and grace in our vulnerability. As we open prayerfully to God’s inspiring and comforting companionship, our wounds become the media of God’s healing touch to other vulnerable people.