By Associate Conference Minister Daniel Ross-Jones
I just came back from a week of vacation. Living in our California and Nevada environments sure spoil us with wonders that abound. Have you seen the beaches of Los Living Room? Or the wildlife in the Sierra Backyard? And for a real treat, Santa Couch has a great movie festival happening right now.
As a judicatory minister, I often schedule my spring vacation to coincide with Holy Week. This year, it overlapped with my husband’s (original) spring break in the school system, meaning we could enjoy time away together. As a pastor, however, it feels both spiritually impactful and gracefully indulgent to vacation during the holiest – and busiest – week of the year.
While I am not alone as a specialized minister in appreciating the privilege of scheduling spring vacation during Holy Week, having formerly served in local church settings I am profoundly grateful for the work of local church pastors. It is delicate, sacred, hard work.
I spoke with some of my friends from across the country and globe, who serve as local church pastors, to let them know how much they are cared for and appreciated during this year’s most bizarre Holy Week. I counted it a privilege to be able to observe their ministries, in some cases literally from the other side of the world, through the novelty of technology. In each place I was able be renewed in my spirit — even as I was further renewed tackling some projects around my home, or in the moments of walking around the neighborhood with my husband, or as I curled up in the comfy corner of the couch to dig into two (two!) different novels.
What broke my heart, however, was when I asked some of these friends if they were looking forward to a break this week. The week after Easter, just like the week after Christmas, is one of those common vacation weeks for clergy in local churches. It’s almost a rite of passage, the reward at the end of the tunnel of sustained ministry for weeks on end.
Many of them told me they couldn’t take time off during shelter-in-place. One told me their church leadership had said vacation was unnecessary because working from home is “like vacation.” More told me that training other leaders to manage creating worship experiences and content was more work than simply continuing to do it themselves until shelter-in-place is over.
I’m not writing this article to local church pastors – instead, I’m writing it to the lay leaders in local churches: the Councils, Consistories, Cabinets, and Boards. Deacons and Elders. Moderators and chairs of Pastor Relations Committees. I’m writing this to you with one request, one suggestion, with all the weight our relational polity can muster.
Before Sunday, I want you to meet with your pastor and make a plan for how you are going to cover your church’s ministry so they can take a week of vacation in April.
Don’t wait for them to come to you. Don’t make them come up with the planning for worship or programs during the week they’re away. Do let them specify the dates that work best for them, but don’t let them off the hook by planning for vacation at some distant point in the future.
Insist on your church’s pastor taking time for sabbath and rest this month. Because pastoring from home is hard work. It’s emotionally draining. It’s adding isolation onto a vocation that is already among the most isolated.
I’ve been brought back again and again these past few weeks to the image of Jesus sleeping in the boat in the 4th chapter Mark’s Gospel: a violent storm comes across the Sea of Galilee, one that terrifies Jesus’s disciples in command of the boat. As the boat is shaking, the text tells us, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.”
In spite of – or, I believe, precisely because of – the raging storm, Jesus took time for rest, that he would be able to be fully present as teacher and friend.
For all of our Authorized Ministers seeking to lead and adapt in the midst of this raging storm: thank you. You are seen and you are appreciated.
Now, remember to take Sabbath and rest.