Five Ways to Care for Your Pastor During Holy Week

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'Tis the Season / Ministerial Madness

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for those of us in the (non-Orthodox) Christian world. Today we remember Jesus’ pageantry as he rode into Jerusalem, and from here we re-tell the stories of a last meal and new commandment, betrayal, denial, and commitment, as we journey to the cross, the tomb, and Easter. It is a holy week indeed.

It is also a generally extremely busy and often stressful week for pastors, perhaps more than any other in the liturgical year. However, people often overlook this, which just adds to the stress. (My theory is that unlike Advent/Christmas, the wider society is not aware of or involved in preparing for Easter other than getting baskets ready and hiding eggs, so people simply forget–even those that go to church!).

So, as we head into Holy Week 2015, here are five suggestions for ways to care for the pastors in your life so that they might experience the holy as well as the hectic of these days.

  1. Cancel, postpone, or delay meetings and/or events at the church. Now is not the time to discuss the arrangement of the storage closet near the fellowship hall, schedule an outside group to rehearse their brass band, or request a non-emergency pastoral care visit. Many churches have services on Thursday, Friday, and/or Saturday–and some have vigils which go through the night–and multiple services on Easter Sunday, many beginning before sunrise, as well as the traditional Easter Breakfast(s). This means multiple worship bulletins, set-up, music choices, sermons, and so on, as well as being present and pastoral during all those events.  Nevermind that clergy do actually appreciate being able to try and experience these services, rather than just run them. Wait until after Easter for those meetings, keep the church as peaceful as possible, and allow your pastor some room for all the extra responsibilities that are already on the calendar for the next seven days.
  2. Offer to help–and follow through on that offer. Fold bulletins, set up chairs, arrange candles, proofread bulletins, make phone calls, bake bread, wash dishes, do laundry. Ask what needs to be done, and then actually do it! It’s beyond frustrating when ten people volunteering to accomplish a task and then only two people show up, so it takes three times as long. Or the pastor ends up having to do it instead of writing one of those sermons. **One caveat: the first part of this suggestion is to offer or ask. Please, please, please, while we appreciate the dedication, please don’t just take it upon yourself to do what you think needs to be done without checking in with someone first. Often that just adds more work when things need to be fixed!
  3. Bring coffee–or wine, or chocolate, or dinner, or flowers, or anything else that will let your pastor know you appreciate her and simply brighten your pastor’s day. We don’t need to be showered with gifts, but in the midst of a week in which we are not able to spend much time with our friends and families or even just sit and veg in front of the television, a little pick-me-up can go a long way toward lifting our spirits and renewing our energy.
  4. Show up. Pastors work hard to craft meaningful and holy worship experiences for our congregations and communities this week, and it really sucks when no one shows up. We get that people have busy lives, but this is an important week. We get that not everyone feels like taking on the drama of the Passion narrative, and that many struggle with these tough stories and their meaning. It is heavy and hurtful and hard, but it makes Easter so much more powerful, and we really want you to understand that. And, ok, we want to make our stress and late nights and long days feel worth it–which it doesn’t when people don’t actually attend all these special services. So make a point to show up this week and be open to whatever creative and innovative or traditional and familiar liturgy you experience, and be prepared to encounter the holy.
  5. Pray. Pray for your pastor this week. Pray for your family member or friend who is a pastor. Pray for all the pastors in your community, and even around the world. Pray that they might find a few moments to take a breath and re-center. Pray that they might not lose their temper or burst into tears and make it through this week with an intact sense of humor. Pray that they would be healthy. Pray that they would remember that they are not Jesus and do not need to be the savior. Pray that they would experience the holy breaking through the hectic. Pray that they would know God’s continuing presence, and Christ’s abundant grace, and the Spirit’s guidance and rejuvenation. Pray that they arrive at Easter ready to give and receive the Good News of the empty tomb, new life, and the promise of resurrection. And pray that they get a nice, long, Easter nap and a chance for a day of rest next week!

Time to Think

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While today was in some ways busy and hectic, I also received an unexpected blessing: some time to think. I arrived at my part-time job to find my boss already there. Usually at that time she is dropping her children off at school, but she had forgotten that their vacation extended an extra day. She had decided to spend the day with them, so I was left by myself for most of the day. As I packed up orders of spices, a task which doesn’t involve a lot of complex thought, my mind was free to run hither and yon as it pleased, darting from one subject to another.

I came to a conclusion about a decision I had been considering. New ideas for my business percolated. I imagined possibilities for my future. I brainstormed ministry plans.

All within the space of a few hours.

How often do we give ourselves the time and space to just let our minds wander, to really think, to allow our imaginations to stretch? I admit I am guilty of grabbing my phone and scanning Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram–anything I can think of!–the minute I have an ounce of downtime. I’ll listen to podcasts or Pandora while washing dishes (on the off-chance I’m not simultaneously mediating drama from the offspring). I rarely allow myself to be bored, and I don’t think I am alone in that habit.

Yet, as the studies shared in this Harvard Business Review article show, boredom can increase our creativity, in multiple ways.

We constantly find ways to avoid boredom, to occupy our time, our minds, and our senses, and by doing so, we lose opportunities for prayer, wondering, or just plain thinking.

I find my best thinking happens in two situations: when my body is occupied by a task which doesn’t require a lot of engagement of my mind–such as shoveling snow, digging in the garden (oh, dear God, let me have less of the former and more of the latter very soon!!), doing basic crochet, etc–and when I’m riding in the car. I have always been one to stare out the windows and observe the world, and I still am.

We need to give ourselves time to think. In our busy lives, we may have to schedule it in–fifteen minutes every day with screens (and notifications) off, books closed, sounds muffled. Maybe it means leaving the headphones behind when you go for a run, or sitting quietly with the first (or third) cup of coffee in the morning before anyone else is awake. Maybe it means parking the car at the edge of a field or on a city street and just observing the world around you.

No agenda. No interruptions. No entertainment.

It might get a little scary sometimes. Many of us keep ourselves from our minds for a reason. We’re avoiding our thoughts and feelings as hard as we can, and letting them surface…well, that’s risky, for sure. But ultimately, so good.

Look, it’s a new month, heading into a new season, and smack in the middle of the Christian practice of Lent. All great reasons to give boredom a shot.

This month, give yourself some time to think. You’ll be glad you did.

Sunset on Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, GA.

Sunset on Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, GA.