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Spiritual Connections – Burnout (October 2021)

Nov 4, 2021

This month’s Spiritual Connections is from our General Presbyter, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo:
Earlier this year my doctor told me to read a book on Burnout. She’s a little bit younger than me, has a two-year old at home, a medical practice, and oh yes, that other thing, Covid-19 and medical students to supervise at this time. She said the book had helped her with her own issues around burnout, stress and what it was doing to her physically and emotionally. I appreciated her honesty during my well-visit, and ordered the book.

Guess what?

It’s been sitting on my shelf of “books to be read” for nearly a year. Along with all my other books. One of the ways the pandemic-exhaustion is showing up in my life these days is I’m not reading as many books as I usually do. I have all these lovely, interesting books I’m desperate to read, but my mind and spirit just do not seem to be able to settle down enough. So, I’m listening to lots of podcasts, which are filling up that space in my soul. For now, that has to be enough. I’m hoping that during the holidays I can get back to my reading, but honestly, I just don’t know.

I bet there is something(s) that are showing up in your life too from pandemic-exhaustion.

The other thing that’s showing up for us pastors is watching our colleagues tap out and wondering when we will be next.  It’s scary. No, it’s terrifying.

Pastors are leaving the ministry in droves right now. At a zoom meeting, a longtime colleague of mine in another part of our Synod said, “I’m 60, and I don’t know any pastor who isn’t 58 and older who hasn’t called the Board of Pensions to run their numbers and see how to retire early.” Another good friend of mine just told her ministry that at the end of 2022 she’s done. She’s going to take the financial hit and retire at 60. She’s just done and feels she’s not doing ministry in a way that is faithful to her sense of call. Clergy my age in their middle years of ministry and life are a bit more stuck. Kids are in college or headed there. We haven’t paid down enough of our mortgages yet. Jumping to another career works for some, but the Board of Pensions are serious golden handcuffs that are very hard to take off. Are we the frogs in the pot who feel the heat rising and wonder to ourselves, “is now the time to jump before I am cooked?”

And then there is the guilt. We are pastoring people who are also burned out, also struggling with their sense of call wherever they are planted. Nothing feels all that fixable right now.

Dahlias I picked this week from my garden. Creation’s beauty on display providing healing joy! 

What can I say about this moment we are in? I don’t really have any platitudes or anything special to say. All I can promise you is that I am 100% here. I’ve been meeting with many of you, and if we haven’t met and you are wondering if you can ask me to meet and to just dump or just scream into the void, or laugh, or go for a walk or a hike, whatever, the answer is YES, you totally can. I am here. I’m also working on my ministry toolbox, and that of the Presbytery. We are getting some more funds into that clergy emergency fund. I’m working on a wellness retreat for 2022 and thinking of other ways to help. I might call you to bounce some ideas off and get some feedback. If you have ideas, send them my way. We are in this mess together. We didn’t make it, but here we are. I also do that very bread and butter thing called preaching, and am glad to come fill in if that’s helpful too.

The late Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes, Dean of the Chapel at Harvard University, said at my home church when he was preaching there one Sunday when I was in college words I cling to and share with you: “I had a young mother come into my office one day to talk to me, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and she was distraught for herself, for her children, her family, everything. She was also angry, furious with God. She asked me what she should do. I told her to read the Psalms, because they contain every emotion we have as humans in them. If you are angry, that’s there. If you are devastated and lost, that’s there. If you are joyful, that’s there. It’s all there. The Psalms remind me that God can take it and God’s people have felt it. You are not alone.” Dr. Gomes’ words spoke to me over 25 years ago, and I carry them in my heart and share them all the time. I’ve probably changed them some at this point. But it’s what I cling to.

Please know that you are loved so deeply. I am so grateful to be with you in ministry, even though this isn’t what we envisioned our work and relationship together would be. I go through the Presbytery directory every day and pray through it. You are not alone.

All my love,

Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, General Presbyter

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