Time To Take A Stand

Column by Rev. Jim Burklo on 3 November 2022 0 Comments

The Big Lie has settled the question of whether or not politics belongs in the pulpits of progressive churches in America.  We’ve got no choice but to speak out and take a stand for the Democrats because the Republican Party has devolved into a cabal that is undermining the institutions upon which our religious freedom depends. 

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How can congregations help their clergy who are facing their own stress and burnout? 


Dear Reader,

Thank you for this important question. Unbeknownst to my colleagues and readers on Progressing Spirit, I have been on medical leave for the past two years. The initial reason for my leave was addressing issues related to long-term use of a medication prescribed to reduce the severity and frequency of migraines, but once on leave, it became very apparent that I was also struggling with the impact of high levels of stress over a long period of time. It was hard to unwind in any measured way; once out of the fever-pitch of congregational life, I slammed to a halt.

Congregants are not like co-workers who might identify signs of stress and burnout when they see a colleague struggling. Colleagues interact with each other more regularly and get to know what “normal” means for one another. Congregants, however, aren’t that familiar with “normal” when it comes to their ministers, usually seeing them when in a “role”: presiding at various services, each requiring a different “presence”; providing pastoral care in a variety of situations – crisis and otherwise; leading meetings or being at meetings where they’re expected to maintain a neutral perspective; acting as negotiator, straddling their dual responsibility to both congregation and an ecclesial body. Add the expectation that pastors not become too familiar with congregants or exhibit favouritism, and it can be difficult to detect signs of discomfort, stress, or struggle.

First and foremost, clergy want their congregations to succeed, even and especially when the church is up against the challenges of declining membership, aging buildings, changing demographics, and financial demands. Because that success is so deeply rooted in us and often (unhealthily) tied to our sense of identity, we are quick to to sacrifice our needs for the congregation.


Here are some ways to help us help ourselves:

* Establish a committee whose responsibility is the health of the pastoral relationship. It supports the clergy and acts on their behalf in interactions with the Board or Council, seeking time off, scheduling study leave, negotiating salary changes, etc. Ensure that those on the committee understand their role as one of support as well as oversight

* Build a better board for the congregation, one that provides support for the congregation’s needs thereby reducing the tendency to rely on clergy to manage everything

* As volunteer numbers dwindle, reimagine the work of the church to accommodate the decline; refuse to allow the minister to cover off the programming or duties that volunteers once managed

* Relieve clergy of the responsibility of finding pulpit supply for any absences including vacation, illness, and sabbaticals

* Insist clergy take all their vacation time, wherever possible, in large chunks to provide a period sufficient to unwind and reconnect with their own spirituality

Build paid sabbatical periods into the pastoral contract and ensure clergy schedule them as regularly as has been set by the denomination or those in the congregation familiar with sabbatical leaves

I wish you, and your clergy, the best in caring for one another into a rich future together.

~ Rev. Gretta Vosper




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