Monday, March 18, 2024

VIDEO: From Surviving to Thriving; Research-Based Insights for Congregational Flourishing

In this webinar hosted by Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations, learn about the implications of our 2023 clergy wellness study and what impacts the well-being of religious leaders.

This webinar is part of an ongoing webinar series. Each week the institute will offer a lunchtime webinar and Q&A period to explore the latest church research and insights for beginning the ministry year full of optimism and direction. Every other Thursday 12:15-1:30 p.m. EST.

Register for our webinar series here.

Below is an edited Q&A Transcript from the webinar:

Is “lonely” as referred to in the study different than the act of being alone?

Dr. Charissa Mikoski, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: So in the survey questionnaire the exact phrase was, I often feel lonely, and then clergy on a scale from not true of me to true of me. 0 to 10. Assessed it. But I think that’s getting at a good point about feeling lonely while being constantly surrounded by people and caring for other people. And I think that kind of speaks to what Scott was talking about with the high relational wellness, but feelings of isolation and loneliness, so I think that’s spot on.

Dr. Mark Anthony, Trinity Church: Being very intentional about creating community has been really important for me, and I’ve even shared. I mentioned pickleball I mentioned to our church that if our church we’re as hospitable as the pickleball community, we’d have no problem with having new attendees and retaining visitors. And so I think that for me, and this is probably pretty embarrassing. I’ve been in ministry for 32 years. Allowing non-believers playing this crazy sport to somewhat mentor me and the formation of community. I think there’s there’s a hopeful humility in that I’m always willing to learn how to develop new relationships. But if I found that the more intentional I am. I’m surprised at how open people are to vulnerability, and honesty in our conversations, and it gives me more access. Even when they know I’m a pastor. It gives me more access to their lives, the more vulnerable I am.

Rev. Anna Tew, Our Saviors Lutheran Church: Yes, absolutely. I’ve learned so much from our gym about making new connections, reaching out into the community, retaining members what it means to welcome people in a space where they may not be comfortable. People walking in and seeing crosses, and people walking in and seeing barbells. I find that they’re completely different things, but people are intimidated, and they assume things both ways. So finding ways and learning from from the gym community. Well, about ways to get through that are fantastic. And it it reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, leaving church. She talks about how our congregations treat us as a part, and that can be very, very isolating. So again, this is where I find it really useful to have people who II try to make sure at the gym that people learn about me as a person before they find out what I do for a living and that in itself has been a an odd evangelical tool. And like, what do you mean? You’re a pastor. Okay, that’s weird like, tell me more about your church. But that’s never my intention, but it also allows me to be a human which makes me feel way less lonely. Because I’m not. I’m not a part to them. I’m just Anna, and they like to beat me in workouts. So it’s fun.

Dr. Scott Thumma, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: If I can also jump on here for Pastor Eric, I know him pretty well and have been following his own sort of health journey, and he he makes very clear that his work in the gym also has been sort of what Anna talks about, and and he shares oftentimes in social media with his congregation. His ups and downs in the gym both to be a real person, but then also to to create. You know the parallels between what he’s learning there both about his own health and and their health. So I think there’s a real echo there for sure.

Dr. Allison Norton, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: Another sort of similarity I heard in some of your responses had to do with the role of spiritual practices and in some sense expanding the realm of possibility of what counts as a spiritual practice. I just kind of found that interesting.

I’m hearing about pickleball and going to the gym, and I live in a multi-generational household with 4 grandkids 4-year-olds to 12-year-olds and I find playing with them wonderfully helpful. What does the panel think about play as a practice that frees and energizes us as a spiritual practice?

Dr. Mark Anthony, Trinity Church: I love the idea. I’m in a multi-generational home myself. My parents have lived with me for 17 years now, and having their influence in my kids, life has been a lot of fun. The idea of play. That’s interesting. When I was working on my dissertation. I had asked about the lo! The idea of lament being a spiritual practice, and beyond that, what about grieving? Can grieving be a spiritual practice? And I think that for me, I was. I had a very narrow view of what spiritual practices looked like, and so, being open to the beauty of God in many different ways, has been a beautiful thing in my life. So I appreciate the question.

Rev. Anna Tew, Our Saviors Lutheran Church: One of the things that my current congregation where I’ve been for 8 full years, Now this is year 9, has taught me is one of my members loves to say church should not suck. This sounds really simple but also has just expanded my view of what church can look like and how people tend to see it. I mean much like exercise is a thing I have to do to be healthy and a good person. But that makes it a chore so learning from the gym about how to make exercise fun. This helped me learn how to make church fun and turn it into a form of play. I can go on at length about our Easter vigil, and how, if you go to a standard Easter vigil at a church, it’s often, you know, 10 readings very long, and we turned that into service, where we do a bunch of skits, and we play, and we laugh, and it feels very holy. And at the end of it you’re gonna feel like Christ is risen and so turning the church into less of a chore and a thing to tick off a box, and more into something that we genuinely enjoy. That’s how you make real connections and have people coming back, not out of obligation, but because they want to. Which I think is, if the church has a future. That’s where it is.

Dr. Scott Thuma, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: It’s not just whether it’s play or or what you’re doing, but it but it is, as Ana mentioned earlier getting out of that role like dropping that facade in some sense, yeah. And in a sense, that’s Mcdonald. Ask about the full time, part time, and and we noticed that
that both around this and also around the clergy, discontent. That if someone was also doing other things in their lives. They seem to be healthier. They seem to have less discontentment. Right? That it’s not being totally consumed by that identity. And one of the other persons in the event here asks, you know well. How is the clergy role any different than any other worker in? You know, in an industry or something, and I think very few other industries demand that role of you. Work, being a worker is not the same as being a clergy person. Right? There’s something about the profession that does put on that. That kind of artificial. Yeah, you know the character of a clergy person, and it’s hard to remove that. But if you don’t remove it, then you’re at greater risk of burnout and wanting to leave.

Dr. Mark Anthony, Trinity Church: I think that one of the things that I see in my role is hopefully from the pulpit to bring some kind of prophetic preaching to our community that we see the social errors that are there. And we wanna give a thus saith the Lord to that, and when you live in that all the time there is a lot of pressure, and I think a part of what I feel this great calling to be a peacemaker right? And we live in such a divided world. And so there is that pressure all the time. And I getting back to this idea of play, I call it healthy distractions. And if I can create healthy distractions in my life, there are certain individuals in my church that I know who are going to elevate stress in my life. But there are others. I don’t feel any pressure to put on airs and to put on my mask. And if I wanna just talk about college football for the entire lunch, I can do that. And it’s incredibly therapeutic for me, and I think it’s a healthy distraction. So anytime we can create those healthy distractions, I think it’s to our benefit.

What adjustments can congregations make to cater to the clergy’s well-being?

Rev. Anna Tew, Our Saviors Lutheran Church: Make them take a day off. One of the most helpful things that my congregation does is notice when I look tired, they notice when I’ve been around a lot and and to just really notice that to treat your pastor like a person. Which sounds very simple. But what I’m learning is that my congregations pretty unique in that? That when you say something mean, it really does affect us. As I was saying before, just to think about what it would be like to work in your church. Is it a good place to work? Does it have good time off policies? You know we talk a lot about labor justice. But we forget sometimes about the people we employ as churches. And so that applies to all staff, and that would definitely include clergy. Is your church practicing labor justice? Are they paying fairly, and giving adequate time off? That sort of thing. So
that’s my contribution.

Dr. Mark Anthony, Trinity Church: I think that going back to the idea of honesty and vulnerability is crucial. I think, as a pastor. Sometimes we want to make people think that we are better off than what we are, and so if we can humble ourselves and be really open and vulnerable. You know there was. I share with our congregation that they don’t really know me unless they know my story. And my story’s not complete. Right? That story continues on, and I don’t really know them until I know their story, and you know, an old going back to spiritual practices an older communal practice would be testimony, and where we share our stories, and I think inviting that practice back into our congregations can be very helpful.