A letter, signed by more than two dozen church leaders throughout New England, highlights what it refers to as “decision fatigue and exhaustion” of those in the ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic and period of racial unrest.
Posted on the Massachusetts Council of Churches website, the letter calls for attention to their mental health and a coming together with their congregations to lament their grief before God to heal individual and communally.
“We write to you with deep concern for the well-being of the faithful and the wider communities we love and serve,” the signers of the document, “Lament and Live Together: A Letter to the Church in New England,” write.
“As pandemics of COVID, white supremacy, and persistent inequality ravage and despair sets in, we hear the cry of the Psalmist across every generation. We are weary with crying, and we know you are, too.”
It notes the numerous changes made by houses of worship to serve members despite the lockdowns of the deadly pandemic came “at a cost,” adding, “Many clergy and lay leaders are heavy with decision fatigue and exhaustion.”
“We have been soaked in suffering, as a nation and a Church,” the letter states, saying that in trying to meet the material and spiritual needs of communities served there is a need for those in ministry to step back from what it calls their perfectionism in trying to do everything and to address the trauma they have experienced second hand in helping others.
The Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, and one of the signers, noted that “clergy are in trusted positions to hear the struggles of community. “
“No matter how strong one’s faith, all that pain is wearying,” Everett said.
“We wanted to acknowledge these very real struggles to hold and release the suffering of our communities into God’s hands. Seeking mental health treatment for anxiety, depression or addiction is a very faithful act of loving one’s self.”
She added, “We hope this letter will allow pastors to have honest conversations with their churches about their own expectations.”
“So much has changed in a very short time,” Everett said.
“We need to reset expectations, especially going into Christmas. God is still very much with us, but we also need to lament in order to live together.”
Her comments were echoed by the Right Rev. Douglas Fisher, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and also a signer.
“Everyone feels stress and anxiety during this pandemic and it increases the longer we are in it,” Fisher said.
“Clergy don’t have more stress than others but they have the mantle of leadership and leaders tend to carry the pain of their people. And they have to adjust to new ways of worship, new ways of gathering as community, new ways of providing pastoral care to the sick and the grieving.”
He added, “I’m hoping this letter from these many church leaders will increase awareness of the stress on clergy and invite our best selves forward.”
“Kindness and compassion are sorely needed in society right now,” Fisher said.
“May it begin with us.”
The letter contains information on community mental health resources and offer several suggestions to those in ministry and those they serve.
“Our pain increases as national leaders have failed to acknowledge the depth of collective suffering from both the historic deaths from COVID19, and among Black people and communities of color from racist violence,” the letter reads.
“Pain unseen, unacknowledged, and unaddressed festers. And so, we seek to name before God our honest complaint.”
Suggestions offered include:
Inviting every local church to adjust expectations for new or sustained programming in Advent, Christmas, Watch Night and into 2021 and a vow from church leaders “to reset our expectations for what is possible in this time.”
Saying “we will only make it through if we are deliberate and intentional in keeping Sabbath and rest” and that some programs “will need to cease” and some projects “will have to wait.” It adds, “Stop what is not essential. The Church has endured for 2000 years. It will endure if we cease some of our meetings for a while.”
Noting that some communities “have endured disproportionate death, through no fault of their own, and that “we need to wail and grieve and pray together” and that “we lament fully when we know one another’s suffering, and so we invite you to take the time to hear the struggles of your communities.”
Saying those in ministry “need to speak, preach, teach, and pray honestly about the increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and addiction across the nation without shame or stigma” and that “clergy and caregivers are experiencing secondary trauma on top of our losses.”
Other church leaders in Massachusetts signing include Bishop Talbert W. Swan, II Jurisdictional Prelate, Nova Scotia Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, Church of God in Christ; Rev. T.J. DeMarco, Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Boston, Presbyterian Church (USA); Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Resident Bishop, New England Conference of the United Methodist Church; Rev. Nick Fatato, Southern New England Ministry Network (Assemblies of God); Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts; Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts; Rev. Dr. Mary Day Miller, Executive Minister, The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts; Rev. Dr. David Wright, Esq., Executive Director, Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston.
Also, Rev. Thaddaeus B. Allen, Regional Minister, Northeastern Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Rev. Howard K. Burgoyne, Superintendent, East Coast Conference of The Evangelical Covenant Church; Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Ph.D., Bishop Diocesan, The Episcopal Church in Connecticut; Rev. Jane Field, Executive Director, Maine Council of Churches; Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer, president, Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ; Bishop James Hazelwood, New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rt. Rev. Marilyn B. Kendrix, Bridge Conference Minister, Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ; Woullard Lett, New England Regional Lead, Unitarian Universalist Association; Rev. Jocelyn Hart Lovelace, Presiding Elder, Boston Hartford District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, New England; Bruce Neumann, Presiding Clerk, and Noah Merrill, secretary New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers); Rev. Donald Remick, Bridge Conference Minister, Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Harry L. Riggs, II, Executive Minister, The American Baptist Churches of Connecticut; Rev. Chontell N. Washington, Interim Executive Minister, Rhode Island State Council of Churches; and Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director, New Hampshire Council of Churches.