I run an organization that partners with churches and ministers around the United States. In that capacity, I meet with groups of clergy, take calls and emails from clergy friends, and sit in ministry network Zoom meetings. I have noticed across the board that ministers are struggling. The pandemic is taking a toll in a way that ministers can’t really openly talk about.
They are being stretched and pulled in multiple directions. They are trying to find creative ways to connect with church families, struggling to get the virtual attention of students tired from virtual school. They can’t visit hospital rooms to be there for church family members. They are sometimes unsure of what to do next and how to appropriately mark important moments like Ash Wednesday or Easter Sunday. They are preaching funerals with only family in the room and without the normal community of support. A pastor friend in North Carolina is preparing to preach his fourth funeral of 2021, a suicide. Normally he performs about eight annually. Add to this that many clergy have family several states away they haven’t been able to visit in over a year.
In spite of the difficulty, creativity and ingenuity of clergy are astounding. The church never will be the same. And yet the stress of continued innovation and protracted isolation are starting to weigh on them.
Some are saying that many clergy are in crisis, and I agree. So, what we can do to help? Here are six ways to support your ministerial staff now, and in the days ahead.
- Give positive feedback. Let clergy know you are watching, listening, reading what they are offering because real feedback — beyond a like or a heart emoji — is important. Send a text or email. They can even handle constructive criticism. They want to hear from you.
- Write a note of support. Send an old-fashioned note in the mail with simple words of thanks and encouragement. Find other tangible ways to let them know they are appreciated across the next few months.
- Give a special therapy gift. When safe, get your Sunday school class to gift them a massage, a pedicure, a spa treatment, or some other splurge you know they will enjoy. The point is to find ways to take care of them as you are able.
- Allow mental health days. Ask your Personnel Committee to allow clergy to spend accrued sick days for personal mental health days. There are serious mental stressors occurring, some of which will take time to address.
- Extend extra days off now. Talk to the deacons or the Personnel Committee and request extra days off for your clergy to use right now. Give them a day off every month during this pandemic. Consider closing the church office for these days so that everyone is forced to actually be “off.” Remember, ministers feel called to their work and want to be present during this extended crisis. So allowing space for self-care will help make sure they don’t experience burnout.
- Add an extra week of vacation later. When things return to some sense of normal, consider giving your ministerial staff an extra week of vacation — or more. They have worked hard and worked differently for a year now and will need some extended down time to recover. Many of our churches have members with lake or beach houses. So, don’t just give your minister an extra week, send them somewhere with your blessing. Make sure they know they can take seven to 10 days this summer with your full support.
These are extraordinary times, and our ministers have risen to the occasion. I encourage you to value the position they are in — divided by those who want to open now, and those who say it’s too soon. Value their efforts to try new things, knowing that some will work, and others might not. Be generous in your praise and sparing in your critique, knowing they are trying their best to minister in these arduous days.
This list is not magic. There are other things you can do. This is a gentle reminder to support your ministers as they care for you and your church family.
David Burroughs serves as president of PASSPORT Camps.