Over this past year, we have had to pivot—in our personal lives, as religious leaders, and in our organizations. We have found ways to be resourceful in ways we didn’t know we could. Perhaps we have even sensed a capacity to be resilient in order to navigate intense and unforeseen challenges. Resilience is often understood as the capacity to “bounce back,” but I prefer to think of it as the ability to return again and again to what matters. In other words, to cultivate resilience, we must practice pivoting.
The word “slept” has been trending on social media—I’m not surprised. Most clergy I’ve spoken to in recent months say they are not just tired—they are “exhausted.”
Given all the challenges we face—the pandemic, political polarization, racial injustices, rising unemployment, growing inequities—it is no wonder that leading and ministering stretches our capacities and taxes our energy. But if we are willing to step out of familiar ways of coping that have not worked, these times can also lead us into deeper ways of listening and learning.
Two conversations I have had with clergy recently led me to ponder some of the undercurrents of doing ministry during this pandemic and the upheaval and uncertainty we are now swimming in. I was reminded of how important it can be to show up for each other.
At the conclusion of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, she asks a friend what she should ask a world leader she would be meeting. The friend said, “Ask him: History knocked on your door; did you answer?” Klein concludes, “That’s a good question for all of us.”
In this uncertain time, in whatever capacity we serve as religious leaders, we can hear history’s “knocks” in the feelings of uncertainty, despair, and overwhelm we experience in the institutions we serve.
Amid the conflicts and tensions that arise in congregations, we have more than enough opportunities to act on impulse. Too often, especially when we are upset, we lock into a reactive tug-of-war: “Yes, you did!” “No, I didn’t!” Before long, we’ve said something that we wish we hadn’t. Escalation seems inevitable, but instead of getting into a contest, we can simply—in the words of recent meme—“Keep Calm and Drop the Rope.”
In the third season of the Netflix series The Crown, Prince Philip meets with clergy attending a retreat at a newly-established “center of recovery and renewal” on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Dean Robin Woods is facilitating the retreat; I’m sure he expects the prince to give a word of welcome and encouragement. Maybe he hopes participants will be pleased by the mere presence of a prince.
At moments of re-centering, we can follow a renewed sense of calling.