Recharge this Summer

Parish ministry can be overwhelming

By Peg Ekerdt

This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of GraphicCelebration. Download a print friendly version of this article.

For the first time in many years of ministry, I feel out of ideas and energy. The varied nature of my work demands that I keep several ministerial balls in the air simultaneously. Some days that makes life very interesting. However, at the moment it feels my life is a bit out of control.

So many parishioners are currently diagnosed with cancer thatit seems as if I’m in the midst of an epidemic. I’m thinking about faith formation for the coming year, and I wonder what in the world we can read together to inspire our yearly planning process. It occurs to me that I might have to recruit more school of religion teachers come fall. The very thought fills me with dread, and I wonder: Can I do this another year? I feel spiritually empty and wonder what kind of a spiritual director that makes me.

I am, quite simply, overwhelmed.

So thank God for summer. I know I need it, especially this year. I need the slower pace and the time it allows me to recharge. I wonder if any of you feel the same. What do we do when we recognize the need to stand back, to gain perspective, and to be fed ourselves? Here are a few suggestions. Please feel free to e-mail me with your own.

  • Be intentional about seeking mental diversion. Read novels (The Good Dog is a recent favorite), see movies (“The Descendants” and “The Way” are two on my list), visit an art museum, go to a concert, head for the baseball park (if you’re lucky enough to have a team nearby), play cards or work puzzles.
  • Embrace activity of some kind. The activity can involve fine motor skills or free motion, but in some way allow the body to take the lead. Draw, embroider, go dancing, visit a local nature preserve or park, fly a kite, refinish furniture, garden, do yoga, walk more, build something or clean out closets.
  • Get out of town. Ministry is a way of life, and as such, it often involves a 24/7 commitment. I have heard more than one among us say that the best, and sometimes only, way to recharge is to leave town. That can mean a day trip to a neighboring county, a day or two away or longer time for a real vacation. However we do it, it is important to get away … really get away.
  • Pay attention to some spiritual practice that has lost its place of honor. Whatever it is that has fallen in favor from the daily calendar — be it silent prayer, journaling, participating in adoration, attending daily Mass, praying while walking, spending time in scripture meditation — think about why that practice has diminished and if it might be possible to reclaim it or try something new.
  • If attending a continuing education conference or retreat is out of the question, then choose one book in the field to read. As summer unfolds, consider the pile of books in the office or by the bed that we intend to read someday. Or read the book reviews in Catholic periodicals to find a new source. Sometimes one good read is enough to renew the mind and just think differently about things. Ask other folks in ministry what they are reading. James Martin’s Lives of the Saints and Richard McBrien’s The Church have been recommended recently. Thelma Hall’s Too Deep for Words and Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God are two on my list.

Perhaps most of all, it is important to open the heart to the surprise of God’s unpredictable grace in the people and events of summer’s days. For when the pace slows, we are more apt to find that the promised Spirit is indeed ever near, and to trust that it is God’s work, not our own, that will be done.

As June begins, I am still on empty. But I look forward to summer’s gift of time and change of pace. In God’s time, restoration and renewal will come. And so will fall. In the days to come, I pray for energy and desire to walk by faith when the end is not clear, and to believe that the Spirit will once more find a way to use the tiny mustard seed of my faith to do its part in building the kingdom.

Peg Ekerdt is a pastoral associate at Visitation Church, Kansas City, Mo., where her work includes pastoral care, adult formation, marriage preparation and spiritual direction. E-mail her at peg@church.visitation.org.