When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
Last night, San Marino Community Church bid farewell to Jeff and Lynn O’Grady, as Jeff retires and they get ready to move to Nashville, Tennessee. It was an upbeat evening of gratitude for Jeff’s leadership, and the impact he has had on the church. He leaves San Marino healthy and hopeful for the future, with support for their remaining head of staff, Jessica Vaughan Lower. Jessica showed her capable leadership by reflecting on a pastor’s life, and how well Jeff has led his. She spoke about the pastor as an “emotional extremist,” putting words to a phenomenon with which I am quite familiar.
In the life of a congregation, you can go from the highs of new life to the tragedy of sudden death, with many mundane tasks that still need to be tended to throughout.
In my own way, I’ve experienced some of that this weekend, and I’m a bit weary. I expect my fatigue may come from several factors, including the weather turning back to cold and cloudy, some uneven sleep, and the cumulative impact of life in 2021. This weekend, my version of emotional extremes includes the high of preaching and meeting with a congregation on Asian-American awareness which was a great joy, the gratitude but also some grief in saying good-bye to Jeff, and the cumulative impact of Zoom fatigue.
Life on Zoom has its benefits, but also its bumps and discomforts. Whenever we’re in breakout rooms, and we get snatched out of the group at the designated time, I think of Philip being snatched away from his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. We are very aware of Zoom’s benefits of broader, more cost-effective participation when we don’t need to travel to a meeting; conversely we miss the casual and friendly interactions, and the sense of being one body, when we meet in person.
The word for the near future is hybrid, as we find ways to retain the advantages of on-line meetings while we also cautiously move back into in-person activities. Most of our churches will be looking at this for worship and other aspects of church life. And the General Assembly has announced a hybrid design for 2022, including a series of in-person committee meetings flanked by on-line plenary sessions. See an article on the new design and docket here. Interestingly, the current plan for the national church is to continue all meetings on-line throughout 2021.
As I try to envision how this hybrid GA will look, my fatigue takes over. I’ve been noting that as we slowly transition into whatever post-pandemic life will look like—a transition that seems to be as fraught with uncertainty as was the transition into the pandemic—we will witness many different emotional responses as we process this massive disruption in our lives. For instance, I noticed last week I was more irritable (even more than usual!), and this week I’m tired. As the adrenaline levels move back to normal, I have to accept the fact that I may not be as productive as I process all that has happened for me—and this is true for every one of us!
So it’s timely that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I think we all need to give ourselves permission to tend to our mental health. This isn’t easy or comfortable for most of us, because we take our mental health for granted, and even make judgments when mental health is at risk. So I’m thankful that the PC(USA) has a Mental Health Ministry, and that they have seen fit to provide a grant for our presbytery to offer some support for our churches.
With the help of our Chaplains for Honorably Retired Presbyterian Church Workers, Lauren Evans and Diane Frasher, and COM member and Jungian analyst Sophie Eurich-Rascoe, we are planning on a three-pronged approach:
- We will offer three webinars for church leaders and anyone interested in these topics: managing post-pandemic stress, suicide prevention, and recognizing and responding to mental health concerns in our
- We will hold support groups as we reflect on how life has been this past 14 or so months. The groups will be open to everyone (with clergy in a separate group, for more open sharing for pastors and church members alike), on-line, and facilitated.
- We will organize a set of resources curated and archived on-line for use by our churches. The resources will include a referral list of local therapists, information on issues such as suicide prevention, and materials designed for on-line distribution or printing at your
We hope to announce specifics for these activities and resources starting in May. In the meantime, the Office of Mental Health Ministry has compiled this list of resources.
As we go forward, let us care for ourselves as well as each other. Let us take a break, take a walk, get some fresh air, and give our eyes a break from screen time. Let us be aware that we will all be processing life in our individual ways, but we share the experience that life as we knew it has radically changed. And just as we need time and rest to heal from an illness, let us take that time and rest to recover from these strange times. And let us rest into the grace and care of our loving God, and may we always remember that it is not up to us alone to do the work of the church—the Holy Spirit works through us. As we turn towards Pentecost on May 23, let us give thanks for God’s glory, witnessed and reflected by our ordinary and extraordinary lives.
Thanks be to God!