I’ve been in the same charge for over twenty years. Not very long in to my ministry, a Quinquennial Review identified that a support group would be of immense value.
Doing as I was encouraged to do, I set up a small group and they acted like a sounding board for the next while. Over time, the group membership has changed and I have been able to invite some skilled and experienced people to participate. It has been very important to identify the right people. The group has become a place of deep support, trust and accountability. I can go to them with anything I need to discuss, and they feel able to challenge and stretch me. It is my role to support them as members of my congregation; it is their role to support me as trusted members of my support group.
As a result of some of these conversations, I have given space for self-reflection and spiritual renewal. They’ve spotted when I’ve been near to worn-out. They ask if I’ve taken the action I said I would. They challenge me if I feel guilty doing something which will benefit me or my family.
Over the years, I’ve valued the support of colleagues in the presbytery – a group who have met up regularly to support one another. We find this hard. Too often we talk around issues rather than face the real ones at hand. We can struggle to speak to one another honestly, too often feeling we are fighting for our own survival, being more competitive with one another than we would ever mean to be.
I hit a real low point a year into working with our new building. Sharing this with someone from this Presbytery group, they admitted “I’ve been going through the same thing. I see someone.” It turned out most of the group were “seeing someone” – a counsellor, someone for spiritual accompaniment, a coach – but no one had ever mentioned it. I reached out for counselling, which was hard but incredibly helpful. As result, I addressed the feelings I had about how my ministry related to my family life. I acknowledged that my ordination vows were trumping the marriage and baptism vows I had made and I was letting my family down. Things were able to change; I started to work on myself in a new way.
I have two good colleagues from outside of my Presbytery who have seen the same counsellor. We have started to meet regularly to support one another. We don’t talk church politics, we don’t even really talk theology much. We listen to one another and we are very careful with any advice we might give. We walk, talk and pray. They understand ministry and they encourage me to look to God for all the help and support I need. I took the initiative to set this up – I knew I needed it and so did something about it.
During lockdown, the Presbytery fraternal has been reduced to a WhatsApp group and it’s not the same. It’s become functional and lost it’s support focus. We could restart it but no one has taken the initiative. Perhaps it has served its purpose.
I’ve never been busier than in the last two years. We’ve become an essential service in our community. The number of funerals I have done has grown exponentially. The weight of these is heavy – many of these people I have known and loved. There is little space to grieve for them myself as I carry the practical load for their funerals.
I am so conscious of my own need to be refreshed and restored. I need to be more intentional in seeking out others when it’s tough. When I can’t pray, use others. There are tons of resources available to me.
I know I try to shoulder too much on my own. I tend to be a solo pilot. God is big enough for all my stuff. My charge is about to triple in size and my immediate thought is “How will I manage?” But I’m not going to be on my own.
I’ve never worked in a team before. I’m going to have to learn how to do that. I’m going to learn how to do that. Sharing the load with others as often as I can, in whatever way I can.