Pastor Jeff’s Message for January 2020
Just before Christmas I was sitting on the couch reading one evening and I heard a popping sound near my face. It turns out the frame of my glasses gave way around one of the lenses, and spontaneously snapped apart. We quickly got out the crazy glue and fixed it as best we could. Thankfully, the frames were covered under warranty, and so I already have my replacement pair of glasses. I’m pretty careful with them, and haven’t been hit in the face recently (they asked me this before they sent my replacement pair!), the frames were just under so much tension that they suddenly gave way.
I shared on a recent Sunday that I considered calling the Bishop’s office in December to begin the procedure to initiate a medical leave due to stress. This was a warning sign to me that like my glasses, I was wound up under so much tension that I was close to snapping. After nine months of ministry of carrying the weight of the church on my shoulders, and with many more months to go, I realized that if we didn’t change course, I was not going to make it. I realize, as well, that no one on council or at Unity wanted or wants me to take a leave of absence due to stress, and so I decided the best course was to be candid with you.
So in the interest of my health and and our ministry together I have begun setting these boundaries moving forward:
- To work from home. Spending so much time in the church by myself has not been good for my mental health. I’m just as easily accessible from home as from the church. Pretty much all of my job can now be done from home. I have also accumulated many office administrative tasks over the years that aren’t directly related to my call as pastor. I am letting these things go: either they will be picked up by others, or they are things that can just be dropped.
- For Unity to invest in technology for worship. I have used much of my own computer hardware for ministry in these last months. We have also struggled with the connections between the sound in the church and the Zoom software. It’s time for us as a congregation to invest in the proper technology that we need for worship in our new digital age. It should be as simple as flicking a switch every week and not having troubleshoot or worry whether things will work or not. Thankfully the Alberta Government has a $5,000 grant to assist faith communities in the purchase of items necessary for online worship.
- To be clearer about who communicates what. I have been the primary spokesperson to you for the last nine months, but it’s not my job to communicate every congregational matter to you, nor to be the primary contact on every matter. I’m empowering our council to be clearer about communicating Unity’s financial status and other items of governance with you. We will also work as a council to better discern which jobs fall under the council or congregation’s mandate, and which ones are mine.
- To not burn out our many volunteers. Worship is still a communal task. It takes people in the church each week to make it happen, plus those at home as well. We need to make sure that our volunteers can share of their gifts without being overwhelmed and no one person taking on too much of the burden. We are going to attempt having a more informal service once a month that I will lead from home and we will use pre-recorded music, so that all of our volunteers have a chance to rest. The ELCIC bishops have prepared sermons for use during the season after Epiphany, and so you will hear from some of them, so that I also have time to catch up and not prepare a sermon every week.
I appreciate the many thanks I have received for my honesty and candour. I know that the work that I have done in these last months is very much appreciated. I also know that almost every Sunday after worship I am exhausted, and clearly I need to take care of myself.
The good news is that I believe that if we heed these warning signs and make some changes that we can avoid a worst case scenario. I also know that each of you, as individuals and families, are dealing with your own anxiety and stresses brought on by COVID. My hope is that each of us can bear a piece of our congregational stress, so that none of us bears too great a burden. As Paul writes to Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2). We do right by God and each other by sharing the burden together.
We still have many months to go before COVID is behind us, but I do trust that the Holy Spirit continues to descend into our midst during this chaotic time will lead us safely through.
I am grateful for your prayers for myself, and for Deanna and the boys, and for our continued ministry together.