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Key Questions, Keeping Connected, Zoom Call 4/30 at 11AM EST

To All Clergy

Dear brothers and sisters,

Let me begin with how I am being encouraged and challenged. I was reading the Jubilate this morning in Morning Prayer and these words came alive:

Be assured that the Lord, he is God;
it is he that has made us, and not we ourselves;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (BCP 2019 version)

In the midst of a pandemic that is reshaping our world and our ministries, I was encouraged that the Lord is the God who wants us to trust in who he is and find deep assurance there.

At the same time, I was challenged to remember that the sheep are his. While you and I have certain ministry responsibilities, the flock is the Lord’s, not ours, and he cares eternally for others and us despite our limitations and failures.

As we move ahead into the next season of ministry, I want to raise these key questions:

  • How do we keep our congregations connected, with some members who will be attending while others stay at home? 
  • How do we use this season to train ourselves and our people to become more prepared as missionaries to reach the harvest?
  • How do we care for one other as clergy, avoiding isolation and burnout?

The first two questions are ones you need to wrestle with in partnership with your congregational leaders. I continue to recommend Canoeing the Mountains (Tod Bolsinger) and Surprise the World (Michael Frost). While I know that many of you have already read them, these books have special relevance to the new world we are heading into, and are worth reviewing. We are heading into a world where traditional church programs will not be as effective in training disciples and reaching the lost. Catechesis, missional small groups, caring for those in need and hospitality will be key elements in this post-Christendom age of ministry.

Let me take a moment to call you to consider the final question concerning mutual support. Like those of you who saw it, I was deeply saddened by the tragic death of an ER doctor who took her own life in the midst of the pandemic: https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus-top-nyc-doctor-takes-035823014.html

As the article mentions, she was a devout Christian with no history of mental illness. The article reminded me of a priest who years ago was a key leader in the Hurricane Katrina relief. After many months of faithful service to those impacted by the storm, he himself had a significant emotional breakdown.

Speaking for myself, this has been one of the most traumatic and stressful times in my entire ministry. Along with the support of my wife Marcia, I thankfully have been upheld by a small prayer group of faithful bishops for several years. They have really helped me as we go through this.

Let me challenge you to be in a supportive clergy prayer group if you are not already. Canon Mark Eldredge will be sharing some options and will be glad to help you become part of such a group. The groups should generally be no larger than four members.

In any case, while I know the term self-care sometimes sounds self-centered, please step back and ask yourself, “Do any of my fellow clergy really know what I am struggling with?” And correspondingly, “How can I encourage other clergy as they seek to serve the Lord in this trying time?” It is striking to me that Jesus seems to have had a core group of three who joined him for key moments of his ministry.  In addition to such support groups, I am finding by God’s grace that focusing more on my own times of prayer and Scripture reading, as well as on exercise, diet and rest, has been crucial. I hope the same is true for all of you.

I also want us to go through this time more widely connected to one another, both for missional and pastoral reasons. Beginning in May, I am asking you to be part of a monthly diocesan clergy Zoom call on second Thursdays at 11:00am Eastern time, and a monthly deanery Zoom call the fourth week of each month, with a time soon to be shared with you by your own dean.

I hope you will join the scheduled Zoom call tomorrow, April 30th at 11am EST. Please contact Jessica Jones for the Zoom link.

Please be praying for our congregations and one another in the unpredictable days ahead.

In the love of Jesus the Good Shepherd,

+Neil

The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
NLebhar@GulfAtlanticDiocese.org