Educator and activist Parker J. Palmer wrote a recent piece for the On Being blog whose title alone suggests volumes: “The Modern Violence of Over-Work.”
Over-work is an issue. As needful as rest is for clergy, it’s needful for laity, too. Unique as the pastor’s roles are, and uniquely relentless as the pastor’s responsibilities can be, clergy inhabit these roles and responsibilities in a larger culture which itself struggles with imbalance. Many Americans own the technology to be connected with work 24/7. Many Americans work long hours at whatever jobs are to be had just to make ends meet. Work can crowd out sleep, exercise, attention to relationships and health, recreation, reflection, and anything we might even attempt to call prayer.
This is indeed a form of violence upon our lives.
To speak of clergy renewal means in some ways to speak of more than clergy. Yes, by providing opportunities for clergy to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life, clergy renewal grants can allow more intentional space for things like sleep, exercise, relationships, health, recreation, reflection, or prayer to come into new balance together in a clergyperson’s life. But, it’s not just clergy.
All people were made for more than the over-work and imbalance that do violence to so many lives. When clergy have the opportunity to engage in periods of renewal, when our recognized spiritual leaders are given opportunity to explore matters of work, rest, and balance in their own lives, they can become prepared in special ways to engage these topics with and on behalf of the larger congregation and community, as well.
The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs emphasize the collaboration between pastors and congregation members in preparation of clergy renewal grant applications. It’s clear that the best renewal programs happen when congregations are on board with the application and the renewal leave that a grant award could fund. Beyond this, however, we have heard that the process of pastors and congregations dreaming together about possibilities for a renewal period has been valuable in itself, even if a congregation was not awarded a renewal grant. It could well be that there is benefit to people of faith gathering to discuss what balance, imbalance, drain, and renewal can mean in our lives.
In a recent article for The Huffington Post, therapist, minister, and author Wayne Muller addresses the sense of shame in our culture when we feel overwhelmed and unable to be as productive as we would like to be. He calls attention to the value of small groups which offer permission for honesty about the over-work and overwhelm, about the “bizarre concoction of ridiculous metrics that drive us, our choices, our policies, our lives - and the lives of everyone around us.” In such gatherings, Muller contends, we can “play with ways to seed an impossible optimism for positive change” and “chart paths to carry these conversations back - to our workplace, our homes, our loved ones.” In such gatherings, he says, “[g]ently, lovingly, we begin to re-dream the world.”
Whether or not this is the right time for your congregation to apply for a Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program grant, now may very well be a good time for gathering people of faith in your community to talk about work-life balance, about what renewal means from a faith perspective, and how we ourselves may be called into the re-dreaming of this world we share.
Rev. Callie J. Smith is associate director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.