A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
With Measured Steps
March 26, 2020
The Board of Pensions’ CREDO program gathers pastors for intensive eight-day seminars during which the thirty participants are led in a comprehensive, granular examination of their current health spiritually, physically, emotionally, vocationally, and financially. Then they are guided into forming a plan for strengthening their health into the future in each of those areas. For most participants, the week is a wonderful get-away from the harried press of daily life and ministry, and they come to feel a bit of kinship with Peter on the mountain of Transfiguration, “Can’t we just camp here for a while, Lord?” (Mark 9:5-2) Knowing that reentry into “normal” life after the conference can be hard, CREDO for many years provided a guide for going home called “With Measured Steps.”
How do we engage our ordinary tasks when everything has changed, either within us or around us? Early this week more than thirty of our pastors met via videoconference (a new normal for how we meet, at least for the foreseeable future). They shared with each other what, in this “new normal” of coronavirus sequestration, is going well, what pleasant surprises they are finding, and what difficulties they have been encountering.
Some of the struggles they shared were predictable. They reported distress due to loss of income, both from offering plates and from loss of rental income from nursery care, after school programs, and so on. No surprise. They reported struggles of many members with loneliness and unmet pastoral care needs due to isolation. Again, no surprise.
The unanticipated challenge most frequently raised was feeling deep, unrelenting fatigue. Working from home seems like it should be a picnic, but pastors find themselves multi-tasking like never before, trying to juggle their unprecedented needs for communication through text, email, telephone, voicemail, social media, video conference, and more. Sometimes multiple communications portals scream for attention all at once. And unlike office hours that begin and end at set times on fixed days, working from home has no start or stop times to help circumscribe the work of pastoral care, church administration, and worship preparation. Pastors find surprisingly scant time to engage their own family members also stranded at home.
Worship is harder to plan when we are using venues and formats and technologies that are foreign to us. How do we navigate Facebook Live or create “watch parties?” How do we produce decent videos and upload them to YouTube? How do we get the texts on screen for people to follow what they ordinarily find in their bulletin? How do we collect the offering when there is no plate to pass? Should we pre-record or livestream our worship? Should it be filmed in the sanctuary or somewhere else? New technologies do not diminish the importance of assuring the integrity of the worship service’s content. It’s enough to wear out even the most capable among us.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary … and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) The situation in which we find ourselves is just the sort of thing Jesus is addressing. With Jesus, the stressed find rest, reorientation, and renewal.
Paradoxically, Jesus uses the metaphor of a yoke to characterize his promise of rest. We think of a yoke as signifying bondage, but he offers it as a pathway to freedom.
The image of yoked oxen was familiar to Jesus’ hearers. A strong, mature ox was typically yoked to a younger ox that hadn’t yet learned the disciplined art of plow-pulling. The newbie would pull to this side and that to check out interesting sights or dip toward the ground to catch a bit of some special grass. Meanwhile the elder ox would keep moving purposefully forward, and because of the yoke, the weaker apprentice was pulled away from all seductive diversions, back to the main task. Being yoked to the master saved the novice from the weariness that comes from chasing after every stimulus that cries out for attention.
Jesus says, in effect, “When you walk with me, you’ll get in sync with my measured steps. I’ll take the weight of the load. I’ll set the cadence that enables you to live in ‘unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’” (Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message)
We are traveling an uncharted pathway in a world we’d never imagined we’d occupy. How can we best navigate it? By staying close to Jesus, in whose company we find the gift of measured steps in place of all the frantic dashing about that we gravitate to so easily in extraordinary and uncertain times.
In Jesus’ company,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister