This short blog explores briefly three reflections relating to the experience of being in Christian ministry (both Lay and Ordained) with a particular emphasis on the mental health and well being impact of the Covid–19 pandemic.
With an avalanche of advice available regarding mental health and well being matters these three individual narratives bring a nuanced and a hopeful take on this critical issue for all in Christian leadership during this troubling season.
David Brown, Youth and Children’s Development Officer, Armagh Diocese writes:
I must confess that when Covid 19 broke upon society and I was asked to work from home, I initially sat down and (naively) made a list of all the things that I could use this “season” for. I watched Twitter and Face book too much, and found myself organising and reorganising tasks according to someone else’s ideas. Within a week of being at home, I experienced a sense of deep inertia and of being overwhelmed as I wrestled with the sheer scale of the daily news briefings. As many have experienced, I slept poorly as my anxiety levels rose. It is a deeply unsettling experience waking with a head full of questions and frankly going to bed with… a head full of questions.
I am still battling with uncertainty and anxiety (as are so, so many). As a capital “E” for extrovert in terms of my learning style, I am struggling to find my inner “I” for “Introvert”, missing colleagues and parishes with their young people, children and families. “Zoom” and email and “Face book” posts can work wonders but is not fully “…the Word became flesh…” in terms of Christian ministry.
As a qualified Life Coach (and in previously running a company that supported Christian leaders during times of complexity and change) I am very much having to practice what I once “preached” you might say. I am coming to realise that I am not actually “working from home” rather trying to do my level best amidst a worldwide pandemic. Here are a few lessons I am learning regarding my mental health currently…
- Difficult days do pass.
- Noticing my emotions and recognising them is important. Anger, frustration, loneliness for example.
- Today my good enough was and is good enough.
- Conversation and connection with family, friends and colleagues (albeit socially distant) has taken a much more deeper and appreciative tone.
- And without being too “cheesy”, I have been reminded daily of Christ’s goodness…a home with a garden, a family that is well, food on my table, time to read, countryside to walk in and a Church community to join online for worship. There is a lot to be grateful for.
- Managing our mental health and well being requires diligence indeed graft. For me it looks like not so much an IKEA flat pack assembled in half an hour but a thorough re–working of God’s gifts of personality, skills, life experience, passion and indeed understanding some of the inevitable brokenness that shapes us amidst this troubling season.
2 Corinthians 4: 7–11
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all–surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
“Jars of clay”. Treasure within you might say. Knowing Christ.
Mrs. Jill Hunter, Diocesan Reader, Armagh Diocese, writes:
When I was asked to write this piece, I really did wonder to myself what I would have to say that would be of interest to anyone! In my capacity as a diocesan reader I am currently in lockdown. However, in my capacity as a wife, mother, daughter, niece, sister, teacher and school Principal I have never been so busy! Literally in a matter of days our lives changed. They changed in a way that we could never have prepared ourselves for and we are very much muddling through and doing our best.
We are being inundated with information in our media, on our phones, iPads and laptops. Is it too much? Who knows! For me it is about being selective about what I choose to look at. Otherwise we could literally lose an hour of our lives scrolling down through Facebook and really have gained nothing. Turning off our devices gives us a chance to stop and smell the roses. Take time out to appreciate the wonders of the created world. Listen to the music of nature and take time to reflect on our lives.
When we’re taking time doing this let’s take time to talk to God. Let’s tell him all our worries and concerns, let’s thanks him for caring for us and our friends and families. Let’s take time to pray.
1 Chronicles 16:11 ‘Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.’
Rev’d Malcolm Kingston, Rector of St. Mark’s Parish, Armagh, writes:
It felt as if everything changed in an instant. On Sunday, March 15th, we were in St Mark’s, worshipping together but trying to practice social distancing. With hindsight, the warnings were there and we were already scaling back our activities, but naively we expected to be worshipping in our church at the usual times on the following Sunday.
However, as we all know, within a few days everything changed.
The seriousness of the pandemic became all the more immediate and as restrictions began, ‘lockdown’ soon followed.
Reacting and reordering, my colleagues in ministry and I absorbed any guidance on offer and sought to embrace technologies we never utilised before, as we tried to adapt to conditions without any precedence. As I write in Week 6 of ‘Lockdown’, in some ways it feels like we are emerging from some type of experiment to determine how relationships can be nurtured in what feels like a 2 dimensional world. Ministry relies upon relationship; with the Lord Jesus and with the people He has called us to serve. Jesus didn’t minister in one particular place. He was found in settings very private, with his Father or a chosen few, as well as public for all to see and hear. This uniform and strange context is felt most of all on Sundays and in pastoral circumstances. Being unable to worship in the immediate presence of our church family, and physically hold their hands in times of pastoral need feels incomplete.
In virtual world where it is easier to see what others are doing and in a personal setting where I am confined to a keyboard and telephone, I struggle with a sense of guilt for not being able to offer more. However, I have to continually remind myself that it is not about me! His Word shows us that the Lord will use faithful offerings, no matter how small. He will build his Church even amidst very testing times. By his Spirit he bypasses social distancing. I need to constantly remind myself, that as a pastor, my priorities have to be to love the Lord, exercise faith, care for his people and do what I can in service of him.