By Dan O’Mara
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how ministry is done, clergy across the South Carolina Conference were at risk of stress and burnout.
After all, clergy need to be cared for as they care for their church members and ministries. Clergy need to know people care about them, and believe they are worth the investment. Times of crisis can accelerate healthy habits and bring to light unhealthy habits.
“This is a hard time in the life of the church—and it’s not just the pandemic,” said the Rev. Cathy Joens, a conference congregational specialist and moderator of a team of clergy and lay experts who have been studying the needs of clergy during times of crisis. “A lot of things are putting pressure on our pastors, who were not trained to do any of this negotiating with our congregations on several issues.”
With this in mind, the conference has launched Clergy Care. Clergy Care (www.umcsc.org/clergycare) is a new ministry designed to help pastors and other ministers access resources and opportunities for support and personal growth.
Clergy Care is not a mandate nor a substitute for or a segue to administrative requirements and procedures under The Book of Discipline. Rather, Clergy Care provides a holistic approach to clergy self-care: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Resources range from coaching, counseling and spiritual direction to personal video testimonials from fellow clergy to opportunities for clergy to gather for time away, both virtually and in-person.
“We are creating space for persons to have conversation around the mental and emotional issues and concerns and trauma that they are experiencing,” said Dr. Robin Dease, superintendent of the Hartsville District and a member of the Clergy Care team. “We have clergy coaches. We have counselors. We have spiritual directors who can be a support system for you in these times when there is so much uncertainty about what’s going on within you and around you, which can cause a whole lot of angst and pressure and depression.
“If you are going through something, please reach out. Reach out to your superintendent, reach out to your colleagues and know that we are here. You are not alone.”
The Clergy Care team found that story was so important to the process of healing. Many of the team’s members brought their own experiences with emotional, spiritual and physical health challenges to the design and compilation of these resources.
The Rev. Ken Owens, who has pastored local churches in the South Carolina Conference for more than three decades, spent several years not realizing that multiple undiagnosed physical ailments had been significant contributors to behavioral and emotional issues with which he had been dealing. Once he finally reached out for help, he learned the importance of a holistic approach to self-care.
“I came from a generation where men did not show weakness and did not cry,” said Owens, who is now the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, Easley. “I wound up losing a lot of time and energy and hurting a lot of people that I love—and myself.”
The Rev. Sh’kur Francis experienced multiple stressors in his personal and family life while attending college and seminary, and during his ministry, which began with his first pastoral appointment in 2018.
“When you’re in a bad state, in a bad mental state, it will pour out in the pulpit,” said Francis, pastor of New Hope United Methodist Church, Anderson. “It will pour out in the church and your parishioners will take on that mindset and that mentality, as well.”
Dr. Martin L. Quick shared a resource that has proved invaluable to his own self-care as a pastor—a “personal board of directors.” This resource is grounded in Scripture, he said: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22 NIV).
“A personal board of directors is a group you assemble to help direct, guide and assist in your self-care,” said Quick, associate pastor of Journey United Methodist Church in Columbia. “You need multiple people helping you to ensure you are getting a wide range of advice and hearing other points of view.
“I recommend making Jesus your CEO because of his humanity and divinity. Scripture tells us Jesus’ humanity needed self-care—he needed sleep, and he knew when to get away and get rest. Jesus also processed his emotions and knew when he needed to be authentic with God to recharge.
“After that, find people in your life whom you trust and who have strengths that could help you develop in areas where you might be weak.”
The Rev. Chrisie Reeves-Pendergrass knows from her own experience that challenges in the personal lives of pastors can have a significant effect on their ministry. She cited the writing of theologian and author Henri Nouwen as a cautionary tale.
“He says clergy should become ‘wounded healers’—but if we don’t take care of ourselves and really deal with our own stuff, then we become ‘wounded wounders,’” said Reeves-Pendergrass, outreach pastor at St. Matthew United Methodist Church, Greenville. “That’s critical, because we stand in place of God; we are the incarnational aspect of God on earth.
“If we accidentally harm people by transferring our own pain, our own scars, by not being able to separate our issues from the issue at hand, then we’re harming people on behalf of God. That’s where it becomes not just critical for us as a person, but critical for us as pastors.”
The hope of the Clergy Care team is that this ministry will grow organically, with input from those who choose to take advantage of its resources.
What is Clergy Care?
Clergy Care is an investment in clergy who seek to be spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically healthy. Resources include spiritual directors, counselors, clergy coaches and education opportunities. The goal is to provide safe spaces for clergy to share, learn and grow.
How you can help
Want to share your story or suggest additional resources—such as educational opportunities, counselors, coaches, advisers‚—to add to the Clergy Care website? Email the Clergy Care team at [email protected].
By Dan O’Mara