The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
I feel like we are taking a big turn away from COVID this summer, yet COVID keeps fighting back. There is massive confusion about masking, and after several weeks of celebrating our low case rate for COVID, there is another new increase. So LA County has asked—not mandated, but suggested—that everyone wears masks indoors, whether or not they are vaccinated. The reality is that after so many attempts to get the word out, only a little over half of LA County residents are fully vaccinated, and 59% are partially vaccinated. Just this last week I heard about an entire family at one of our churches who are sick with COVID.
But for those of us who are vaccinated, we are starting to venture out again. I am amazed how quickly we are moving back into our “busy bee” lifestyle. It doesn’t even seem to be a conscious rejection of our 16 months at home; we have just snapped back into our way of hitting the road. In hopes that we now know how to manage life (though doing hybrid worship services is not as easy as it would seem), some of us are venturing out to take time off. In fact, I am taking this week off, and then I will again take time off August 23-September 6, and I am hoping to take a sabbatical in 2022, either early in the year or over next summer. But in the meantime, I am being asked to fill the pulpit, as pastors are going on vacation or sabbatical. And I’m happy to do this, because I do believe that we do need to rest a while, as Jesus suggested.
But sometimes, rest isn’t just stopping activity. It can be changing your focus, so you are getting a rest from your usual work and everyday stresses, but not ceasing activity. Recently I had a great discussion with the team who is planning activities to shore up our mental health in this COVID era. The team is comprised of our Chaplains for Retired Presbyterian Church Workers, Lauren Evans and Diane Frasher, and Sophie Eurich-Rascoe. The first offering are the two mutual support groups facilitated by Sophie, who has a PhD as well as an MDiv from Fuller, and offers wonderful caring gifts within the context of her Presbyterianism. The groups are confidential and drop-in. I’ve decided to stay out of the groups to allow for more freedom, but I am totally confident that these groups will be a great time for self-care and haring. Remember, you can join whenever you can; just click:
- Church members and friends, every Wednesday, 7-8:30 Click here to join Zoom meeting.
- Clergy and pastors, every Thursday, 10:30 am-noon. Click here to join Zoom
Come this fall, we will also offer webinars on Managing Post-Pandemic Stress, Recognizing and Responding to Mental Illness in the Congregation, and Suicide Prevention. And we will be offering a curated set of mental health resources online, so anyone can access resources that are well-suited to our churches.
We were discussing how events keep happening that cause stress and uncertainty—if it isn’t COVID, it’s gun violence, or hate crimes, or now shocking heat, even in the Northwest. So how do we take a moment to reduce our stress, in the midst of it all? The popular exercise is intentional breathing (breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts). But for some of us, breathing just doesn’t do it—I think it feels too passive. For others, we can cross our arms in front of us and give ourselves a little hug. Or you can try a technique called “tapping” which is a more active way of focusing our intentions on managing stress.
I am excited that we are starting to move ahead with different opportunities to try something new this summer. The support groups have already started. This week we are asking you to let us know if you are interested in taking the Intercultural Developmental Inventory (IDI), and/or participate in any of three discussion/learning/action groups. Sign up today by clicking here to check out the IDI, or any of these three groups:
- Dialogues on Race: The group will meet weekly for seven weeks using the Dialogues on Race curriculum by Augsburg Press, starting in late July. The group will practice dialogue techniques and learn about the history of racism in the American
- Conversations on Reparations with African Americans: This group will start with study and self-reflection on one accessible situation that calls out for reparations. We will resist our desire to jump to a “quick fix” but practice the many steps towards reconciliation, including reparations that come out of relationship with the community. Wendy Gist is scheduling the initial meeting for the end of July or early August; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
- Reforming Presbytery Practices: This group will review Presbytery practices and values that exclude potential leaders, and propose changes to the way we “do business” that invite broader participation and more faith-focused discernment in our decision-making. We may ask those who are available to join an initial meeting at 12:15 pm on Tuesday, July 20. A Zoom link will be sent to those who have signed up early next week.
So rather than jumping back into the ways we always seemed so busy (yet not always fulfilled) with our pre-COVID life, consider taking a break—by getting rest, changing your venue for a while, or focusing on new topics of study and mutual support. And again, in all things, let us be gentle with ourselves and each other.