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By Rev. Canon Grayhame Bowcott

With the marathon of Holy Week and Easter now concluded – Alleluia, Christ is Risen! – it is at this time of year that a certain clergy meme circulates throughout social media. The meme is titled “An Order for Easter Evening” and takes the appearance of a title heading from an Anglican liturgical service. As an instruction that mimics the rubrics of our Anglican prayer books, the direction is given: The priest goes home. Immediately after following this rubric, a comical (and somewhat ironic) versicle and response plays out. People: Do you have some time Monday morning to get together? Celebrant: No. And, if the BCP language were used in the meme, there would likely be a final element: “Here endeth the conversation.”

What this meme is making light of, is the fact that many (most) clergy struggle to find ways of stepping out of liturgical/pastoral-care-mode, and switching gears into self-care mode. This lack of recovery space is always most evident following the two busiest times of the year: Christmas and Easter.

For wardens, administrators, honorary assisting clergy, and all caring parishioners, it is helpful to remember that sabbath rest, the type of rest that allows exhausted clergy to step away from the routines and worries of ministry, is very much a team effort. Sometimes our clergy need help to be able to do this, and might not be able to accomplish it on their own.

In a similar fashion to the meme that I referenced at the opening, it is quite common for parishioners to email, call, or “drop in for a visit” to their clergy while they are “away on holidays”. Sometimes this interaction is meant to be supportive to the cleric: “I wanted to drop in and say thanks for all your hard work” or “Here’s a gift for you”.

Other times these unscheduled appointments are seeking the cleric to do something (other than rest). In both cases, the interaction reinforces the cleric’s feeling of not being able to step away from ministry. We often might not consider the fact that while a conversation might only take five minutes, the pastor might be triggered to continue thinking (or worrying) about something for hours on end afterward.

Writing as a priest who feels greatly supported in my ministry, but who has a tendency to overwork in ways that affect my family and my ability to rest, caring for clergy is something that requires careful boundaries, clear communication, and the willingness of an entire congregation to support it.

Any pastor who has just completed one of the busiest seasons of the Church year will need to rest. Even the greatest extroverts among us will need their own chosen way of resting too!

This is where wardens can show their support for their clergy. Wardens can help communicate that for a period of time clergy cell phones and emails will be turned off and that visits can be scheduled for a time when they return from the sabbath. When clergy members rest, alternate administrative and pastoral arrangements need to be made; otherwise, the calls will come through despite the best of intentions.

There is a certain irony found in a parishioner who calls his priest on Easter Monday, saying: “Hope you’re having a good rest, but can you…”

Our congregations are truly blessed to have clergy who dedicate their lives and ministries to being in relationship with others for the benefit of caring for them and serving as a bonding agent (the glue) that draws our congregations together. Some pastors have to work really hard to do this and to live out their faith openly and publicly as role models for others. Please remember that these efforts always take their toll and that without the gift of sabbath rest our leaders will burn out and become incapacitated in their ministries.

My final thought for this month’s column is this: truly enabling your clergy to have uninterrupted rest is one of the greatest ways that a congregation can show their appreciation of their ministry leaders. It is a gift to be able to step back from ministry for a time, and know that the other leaders in the congregation can have everything looked after until the time when that person returns from the sabbath, hopefully well-rested and well-cared-for.       

Rev. Canon Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as Rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains, and as Program Director for the Licentiate in Theology program at Huron University.