The Rev. Dr. Irven A. Gammon
The Fellowship of Northeast Congregational Christian Churches
April 15, 2020
Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I pen this message three days after Easter Sunday of 2020. Happy Easter to all of you as you begin your journey to Pentecost Sunday! You will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection over the course of seven Easter Sundays. So, as you continue in Covid-19 self-isolation for a few more weeks, shout “Hosanna in the Highest” repeatedly until you can once again return to worship at your Meeting House.
Meanwhile, I write to you regarding your pastor. Earlier this year I was working with Rev. Don Bliss of East Freetown, MA as a Co-Director of the planned April Minister’s Convocation. This event was to be held at the Cathedral Pines Retreat Center in East Freetown next week, April 20-23. I had recruited Rev. Dr. Brett Younger of New York as our guide and presenter who had developed a renewal program to help the pastors attending refresh their taxed and tired spirits following the long Lenten/ Holy Week/ Easter journey. Our goal: Sermon preparation can deplete our souls or fill our hearts. This is true for each step in the process—
reading the story, looking for God, arranging ideas, and sharing what we find. We will explore
preaching that keeps the preacher’s soul alive in four conversations over four texts:
Preaching with Imagination / Isaiah 6
Preaching with Courage / Luke 4:14-30
Preaching with Honesty / Psalm 23
Preaching with Joy / 2 Samuel 6
Leading the event, I was looking forward to meeting with the pastors of your churches to work at “recharging their batteries” – their physical and spiritual essence. Having pastored a Fellowship congregation for most of 15 years in Florence MA, I know firsthand of the demands and expectations of congregants upon the pastor. Really! It is nonstop, full-throttle from Thanksgiving through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and then a few weeks to Ash Wednesday, Sundays of Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. Believe me, ministers are exhausted and need rejuvenation. The Minister’s Convocation is designed to provide rest, relaxation, good conversation, creative workshops and worship to the pastor.
Given the current Covid-19 pandemic, the three countrywide NACCC sponsored Congregational Convocations were cancelled this year depriving your pastor the opportunity for needed rest and renewal. I would really like to recommend to all of you Fellowship church members that you encourage and support your pastor with some R & R once we get past this pandemic
Is your pastor showing signs of burnout? Without proper rest, personal time for devotion, regular exercise, good nutrition, and solid boundary practices, your pastor could burnout and become unresponsive to his or her call, and to your needs as a congregation. Here are eleven signs and symptoms that might indicate your pastor is close to the edge of the cliff we call burnout (The paraphrased list is drawn from Didn’t See It Coming by Carey Nieuwhof):
Signs that your Pastor May Be Burning Out
1) The pastor’s passion seems to be fading. The excitement that infused the pastor with enthusiasm, delight and initiative dwindles. The joy of engaging with the congregation, studying the scriptures and experiencing God’s creative ways shrinks away to become burdensome and taxing.
2) Little things set the pastor off. The pastor reacts to seemingly small glitches as if they are huge issues with unusual emotional outbursts. He or she may yell or scream at undeserving individuals.
3) The pastor no longer feels the highs and lows. The pastor doesn’t feel emotion but rather almost a sense of numbness of the heart. There is little reaction to joyful moments or painful experiences of the people he or she normally cares deeply for.
4) The pastor becomes cynical. Things that should evoke optimism, creativity and trust of others give way to sarcasm and disrespect. Hope, enthusiasm and cheer develop into cynical thoughts of discontent and disappointments.
5) Nothing seems to satisfy the pastor. Good conversations with people, prayer time, recreation or vacation attempts, good sleep, accomplishments at work, and fine dining erode – nothing seems to fulfill the pastor.
6) The pastor can’t think straight. When a pastor begins to burnout, the heart messes with the mind and he or she lose the ability to think clearly. This might be like a person experiencing a “midlife crisis” when one does something outrageous like buy a fancy sports car on a whim or have an affair. One does not think wisely. The heart and head are not in sync.
7) The pastor’s productivity drops to a record low. Preparing sermons are difficult. Engaging in conversations is tiring. Creative thinking eludes the pastor.
8) The pastor self-medicates when burning out in an attempt to numb the pain. This might include overeating, overworking, drinking, impulsive spending, drugs, etc. Instead of self-care and asking for help, a pastor self-medicates to deal with the unending agony.
9) Everybody around the pastor seems to drain them. No one energizes the pastor. This includes a spouse, children, and best friends. People who usually stimulate the pastor fall short of that blessing. Working with the church leadership is very difficult and tiring.
10) The pastor doesn’t laugh anymore. Nothing seems fun or funny anymore. The pastor begins to resent people who do seem to be happy. There is little to be joyful about.
11) Sleep and time off no longer refuel the pastor. Regardless of opportunities for rest and relaxation that would usually help most healthy people bounce back from the stresses of life, nothing seems to recharge and reenergize the pastor. He or she appears to be tired all the time.
Be alert to your pastor’s livelihood, emotions, and body language. Be attentive to his or her needs as a human being called to serve Christ as pastor and teacher. Love, nurture and care for them.
Please consider circulating this message to the members of your church.
This is usually the busiest week in our church calendar, with Palm Sunday and Easter looming. Sadly, we will be sitting on the sidelines, so to speak, as we cannot be together for physical worship.
Let's not despair, as we know our Savoir, Jesus Christ understands. I fully expect to have a belated Easter celebration when we return. Speaking of returning, I know it takes much patience, but I know we will stay in touch and care for one another.
In the meantime, stay safe and let folks know if you need anything. Remember I am available 24 hours a day through phone, email, or a visit, if need be.
Thank you for hanging in there.
In Christian love,
Ron is taking this issue off – March 1st is the meteorological first day of Spring! And all the signs are there – robins, redwing blackbirds in the yard, tulips and hyacinth and some trees are budding. Can’t wait to get my hands in that warm dirt and plant some annuals. There are so many sticks to pick up in the yard from all the windy nights lately. My house plants are growing new leaves and the windows clearly near washing. Soon we will be complaining about mowing the grass!
Spring cleaning – imagine the dust in the house when the roads were dirt! I can remember my
Mother with her new ringer washing machine and most everything was hung outside to dry. The
sheets would freeze, the towels like cardboard. Love the smell of sheets that have been dried outside
and I still do that occasionally in the nice weather. Guess I need to do some spring cleaning with my head.
They say if you do word games and puzzles, things to stimulate your thinking you will live longer and stay sharp. Great idea putting them on the computer and the phone – amazing. Well, I do jigsaw puzzles on my computer and word puzzles on my phone. So, I should be sharp as a tack. If it’s working, I would not like to see what happens if I stop playing those games!
Off to finish cleaning out the refrigerator! Happy Spring and don’t forget the clocks next week.
Here we are already in February, looking forward to ole Pauxatany Phil, hoping he'll see his shadow, and Spring will be here. It's been a mild winter so far, but we still have a couple months of NE uncertainty.
Thanks to the hard work of many folks, our church received some great publicity, while helping out our friends in Australia dealing with millions of displaced animals and birds. It has been a labor of love for our women folks. Thanks to all.
We are fast approaching our annual trek to Jerusalem and beyond, as we will soon be in the Lenten/Easter season. It is a journey we take together each year. Hope you can join us.
Speaking of Easter season, on Sunday April 5th we will celebrate Membership Sunday at WCC. Some folks have already indicated their desire to join. Please let me know if you wish to join us as a member. It's always exciting having folks join our family.
Many blessings to all,
The first Sunday in January is the anniversary of my one year at WCC. I wish to thank everyone for the support I have received. It has been a great experience for me. I was not accustomed to having such wonderful lay leadership. I am really impressed. Thank you all for putting forth such hard work.
As we begin the New Year, we are faced with challenges, some obvious, ie building our congregation, meeting our budget, and keeping up our buildings and grounds up to par. I'm confident that together, we can meet all of our goals and challenges.
Happy New Year to all,