By Rev. Matthew Kieswetter
Late this summer, in following Luke's Gospel, we navigated a jarring transition, where one moment Jesus speaks of the Reign of God and his community of followers as something akin to a banquet, but then pivots and speaks in severe terms about carrying one's cross and giving up family and possessions.
This seeming paradox reminds me of how we have experienced the various undulations of the pandemic. Early on there was an emphasis on rest — sabbath — and the simplification of schedules leading to a (re)discovery of prayer and recreation. At the same time, of course, there was anxiousness and confusion, but this gradually gave way to a less acute sort of greyness, or "Groundhog Day" effect.
As aspects of regular life eventually returned, we rejoiced at the human connection, but the layering of our online and in-person lives, and the hard work in navigating the rebooting process, has made us susceptible to burnout. There have been financial challenges throughout the pandemic, but stewardship is a comprehensive concept that also includes the use of our time and our energy — all being gifts from God. And so it would be wise for us to assess how we are coping at this particular juncture, and to be honest about what we're encountering and how we might move forward healthily. Is what you're experiencing in line with what others are saying, and what you're seeing reported in the news and online?
In a recent post by GlobalGiving.org (https://www.globalgiving.org/learn/fundraising-fatigue) the author acknowledged that the years of constant adapting has unsurprisingly led to fatigue and a sense of dryness amongst people engaged in the fundraising sector. Their counsel is to acknowledge the human need arising out of these circumstances, and to "ease the constant pressure and stress[.]" Some concrete suggestions are to focus on projects that are truly meaningful and exciting (no events just because they're 'tradition'), to ensure that people are genuinely enthusiastic about fundraisers. This seems like guidance that we could easily adapt to our church context.
A report from England's National Council for Voluntary Organisations (https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/pandemic-volunteers-suffer-burnout-says-report/management/article/1793894) made similar observations about burnout (and interestingly, guilt) amongst those in the non-profit sector, and underscored the importance of supporting volunteers before bringing them back onboard. I've found the area of volunteer ministry to be particularly challenging to wrap my head around right now — a big shift from the skeleton crew operation I got accustomed to in lockdown — and this recommendation seems sound. Instead of trying to get things back to precisely how they were three years ago, perhaps we need to spend more time checking in on those participating in volunteer ministries, and ensuring that our means and ends are aligned in the creation of healthy, caring communities.
This is no small task as we endeavour to live out our calling as congregations. The same report notes that we are shifting from the crisis of the pandemic to a cost-of-living crisis, in which depleted volunteer teams are facing increasing demands. I suspect that this is the case in the secular non-profit sector and in many of our church outreach ministries. And there are no quick fixes...
While one might yearn for a rosier conclusion to this column, perhaps there is nothing wrong with ending on this realistic note. The pandemic has taught us to be attentive to ourselves as we journey through this difficult time, and honesty in this is crucial.
Spending time evaluating our particular moment's challenges, risks, and opportunities is prudent, and approaching both fundraising and volunteerism with care and compassion (including toward oneself) is time well-spent. We need not re-create 2019, but instead, discern what God is calling us to in this particular time, even if things are less than ideal.
No matter what we're faced with, as Christians we are called to lift everything up to God in thanksgiving, and trust that even our imperfect offerings can be transfigured.
Rev. Matthew Kieswetter is the rector of St. Andrew's Memorial, Kitchener, and a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.
Featured photo: Ben White/Unsplash