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When storms rage...lay down and sleep

On 6 July 2021 I chaired my final circuit meeting in the Wolverhampton Circuit. I shared some thoughts to encourage everyone to take more rest. Although I don't refer to her book here, I am indebted to Nicola Slee's book Sabbath.

Mark 4.35-41 – Jesus rested.

Someone sent me a link to a blog this week. I think they were trying to tell me something and perhaps I need to listen to my words as much as anyone tonight. The blog talked about how being a minister during Covid was like running a marathon. And now it feels as though we about to start the second straight after.

Let’s be honest with each other – we are tired. So, very tired. Some of us may describe it is being tired in our bones. Ministry is tiring. Ministry in a pandemic has being tiring plus some more. And when I say “minister” I don’t mean just those of who are ordained but I mean every single one of us who have responsibility in the church and everyone who sits on our chairs or pews or on a chair at home joining over the internet.

We are a tired and weary people.

And I know there are some amongst us, who have ploughed on regardless no matter the impact on their health and well-being.

As laudable as that is, friends, we must stop it. When we are tired, we are being told to rest. It is the body’s natural way of restoring. Or, as I often say, for re-creation. A time to reset and rebalance.

And when the institution of the church is itself tired, we must listen to what that tiredness is saying too. Stop. It.

To say “stop it” sounds negative. It sounds obstructive. But nothing could be further from the truth. To notice our need to slow the pace and to rest-up is giving us the better chance of experiencing the wholeness of life God intends and enables us to become the people and the church God calls us to be.

We have a good teacher for this. Jesus.

In the story of stilling the storm, Jesus slept while there was a storm. You can imagine the incredulity of the disciples. Jesus WAKE UP! There’s a storm. Why are you sleeping?

But remember the context of the storm shenanigans. Jesus sees that there is work to be done. He sees the crowd. He feels the need for people to be healed, demons need to be cast out, and lessons need to be taught. But even so, Jesus leads the disciples into the boat, and once there, Jesus falls asleep.

Yes, the needs of the people are urgent, and their requests (or cries) for healing must have been compelling, but Jesus knows that He needs to stop and rest.

When we look to our inboxes and to-do lists we will always find work to be done. It might feel like we are in the middle of a storm and we must take action. But if we follow the example of Jesus, we need to lay down and rest.

This is my passionate plea to you, the circuit meeting and through you to the churches in the circuit. This is my passionate plea to the circuit leadership team and the circuit staff – lay and ordained. LAY DOWN AND REST!

Ordained ministers have what seems like a luxury of at least one 24 consecutive hours of rest in any one week. A day off. And there is always the temptation that we will “just do that” or “I’ll fit in” and before long we whittle away our day off because culturally we often feel we have to justify ourselves by how many hours we work. Friends, this culture must change. The church must embrace a culture where it is never acceptable to forgo a day off. I’m leaving so I can say this but stewards and friends please hold our ordained ministers to account and make sure they are taking the time to rest.

Our lay employees have hours of work and we should not expect them to regularly work in excess of them. And we should challenge when they regularly work more hours. Our culture needs to be that we don’t always have to be in constant contact.

Our volunteers need time off too! We must embrace a culture when emails can sit unanswered for a while and the phone to be off. And we must hold each other accountable to that too.

I once heard of a company who made it a disciplinary matter if an employee didn’t take all of their annual leave because resting is crucial!

But it can’t end with personal responsibility and accountability. We must look systemically too.

The workload of staff and volunteers in our circuit is increasing. This is partly because of stuff happening in the circuit but also what is being expected of us connexionally. We have five property disposals on the go, three ministerial extension processes, working out an appointment for stationing for 2022, vision and strategy work…the list could go on. And all of that is before everything else we expect of each other and of course we shouldn’t forget the huge amount of work being done locally about re-opening our buildings, connecting with our communities and raising finance and the unknown number of other things I haven’t named.

It feels like a storm. And in a storm, Jesus slept.

There is much work in that list that is urgent and important. But I encourage you to work together to figure out what the priorities and timescales are. So it feels less of a storm and the fundamental need for rest can be honoured.

We are a tired and weary people.

We are a tired church.

Jesus slept.

Can we give each other the permission to lay down and rest, to be re-created. to be who God calls you to be.