Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ and Ministry,
The wind of Pentecost has blown us into a new season in the church; After Pentecost or Ordinary Time. These two seem to me to be an oxymoron. If you’ve forgotten what that is, an oxymoron occurs when two contradictory words are together in one phrase. In fact, oxymoron translates from the Greek words oxy meaning sharp, and moron, which means dull. The thought of ordinary time following Pentecost has bothered me as I have journeyed through my years of ministry. The season of Ordinary Time is a long one, beginning the Monday after Pentecost and continuing through the Christ the King Sunday the week before Advent. The last few years I have been determined to headline my bulletins with 1st Sunday After Pentecost, 15th Sunday After Pentecost, 20th Sunday After Pentecost (you get the idea). I have this deep conviction to remind my people that we are not only Easter people, but Pentecost people, as well. The truth is we live in each day in ordinary time where Christ meets us with Pentecost power through the Holy Spirit transforming the ordinary into extraordinary.
This season coincides with Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day, Fathers’ Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Veterans’ Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving, along with baseball games, graduations, Last-Day-of-School parties, Back-to-School parties, Annual Conference, Vacation Bible School, vacations (You do know what those are, right? More in a moment), family reunions, camping and the list goes on. Ordinary time at its best!
I often feel the thrill of Pentecost with its message of Holy Spirit power gets swallowed up by summer. Just when the momentum begins, the numbers in worship begin to drop due to “ordinary times.” It can be discouraging at times for the pastor to try to keep the life of the church moving.
One year the youth of our church led worship on Mothers’ Day. They did a skit that announced that the church would be closing after Mothers’ Day and would reopen after Labor Day due to lack of interest and busy schedules. We actually had a couple people who believed that was what we were doing. I am not sure if they were hopeful or sad. The NFAMLP Facebook page would be a great place to share what you are doing during the summer season to keep morale high even when numbers are low.
Back to vacations, I want to remind you that all UM clergy have the benefit of vacation time and are encouraged to use it for refreshment, relaxation and fellowship with family and friends. Full-time clergy who have completed Course of Study have 4 weeks and those in COS have 2 weeks available to them in most Annual Conferences. Part-time clergy this does not mean you are not allowed vacation. You are encouraged to discuss vacation with your PPRC and plan your times away for relaxation. For those who are bi-vocational, this plan may be guided by the vacation policy of your employer. In addition, 1 week per year may be dedicated to Continuing Education or 4 weeks in one year during a quadrennium after completing COS. ¶350.2. These weeks include Sundays. You should check with your Annual Conference guidelines (many can be found online by searching “clergy vacation policy ___________ Annual Conference UMC”).
In most cases there are lay speakers/servants who are waiting to be called on to preach. Your musicians may welcome a Sunday of music only in your absence. It is important to give the laity opportunity to prepare and lead worship.
I share all of this because we clergy can get the idea that we are indispensable, that our congregation’s needs are more important than ours or those of our families. In addition, clergy burnout rate is high and on the increase. In 2010 Paul Vitello wrote in the New York Times,
“The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.
Many would change jobs if they could.” While writing this message I found an entire website dedicated to clergy burnout: pastorburnout.com.
Now, I am not saying that vacations will fix everything, but they can help pastors gain perspective, renew and refresh relationships with family and God and provide much needed rest. They do not take the place of Sabbath keeping, date nights, playdates, therapists, spiritual directors or continuing education.
If you are feeling like I have gone from preaching to meddling, I hope you will forgive me and understand that I am right there with you. I have been in ministry for 21 years as a Local Pastor and I have still not perfected this. There are areas where I resemble Vitello’s remarks and today’s message reminds me that God is my refuge and strength, there is rest when we come to Jesus, we are made for Sabbath, and to be still is to know God.
In ordinary time we can expect extraordinary things!
PS… Don’t forget to check out the details and registration for the NFAMLP National Gathering in Nashville, TN. It is a great place for a vacation as well. It is okay to mix continuing education with a bit of vacation! Hope you will register today!