Clergy Sabbath: Helping church leaders cope with rising stress

Clergy Sabbath: Helping church leaders cope with rising stress

Drowning in stress? A Feb. 24 webinar kicks off a Clergy Sabbath experience for Holston pastors needing relief and guidance.

ALCOA, Tenn. -- If anybody understands how stressed and anxious clergy are in Holston Conference, the Rev. Kathy Heustess does. Last year, the Holston Center for Wellbeing logged in 33 new patients, many complaining of overload and problems related to serving in ministry amid COVID-19.

“I was busy before, but now most of my week is back-to-back,” said Heustess, director of Holston Center for Wellbeing. Pastors are calling her about anxiety and depression over new demands for online worship, financial instability, and balance of family and work life, among other concerns.

So when the organizers of Ministers Convocation went to Heustess to ask what Holston clergy need most right now, the pastoral counselor immediately responded, “Rest.”

A newly created Clergy Sabbath experience will address that need for rest. On Feb. 24, Holston pastors are encouraged to participate in a webinar followed by a weekly sabbath day throughout the Lenten season for which they will receive continuing education credit.

“We’re all tired and exhausted,” said the Rev. Will Shelton, chair of the Convocation Design Team. “We’re encouraging clergy to take the break we all need.”

This year’s Clergy Sabbath replaces the annual three-day Ministers Convocation, which in recent years has been held in person during  February in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

“We’re not saying this is an online replica of convocation,” Shelton said. Instead, Clergy Sabbath was created to help pastors establish self-care habits after the increased demands of ministering in the pandemic revealed a desperate need for them to do so.

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Clergy Sabbath seminar will kick off at 10 a.m. with a theological basis for sabbath, presented by Duke University Professor of Theology Norman Wirzba.

“Instead of thinking of sabbath as just ‘a day off,’ we encourage our clergy to go deeper,” said the Rev. Laura Plaster, another member of the Convocation Design Team. “Pastors are notorious for not taking sabbath and for not thinking of creative ways to do it.”

After a lunch break, participants in the Feb. 24 webinar will discuss ways pastors may pursue and establish sabbath time in their lives, led by leaders of Life Around the Table, an ecumenical ministry of the United Methodist Church, based in North Carolina.

Following the webinar, participants will commit to observing sabbath one day each week and will receive weekly Lenten messages and questions from Heustess.

Heustess hopes the experience will give clergy permission to take care of themselves and find creative ways to observe sabbath, especially since the pandemic has eliminated many opportunities to go away or take a vacation.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” Heustess said.

Register by Feb. 23 for Clergy Sabbath. Cost is $50. Clergy Sabbath is sponsored by the Wesley Leadership Institute.

Find out more about the Holston Center for Wellbeing.



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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.

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