I spent a wonderful time at the minister’s retreat this past Sunday and Monday. There was time for listening and learning, plenty of meals and food, great fellowship, and tons of arts and crafts! The best part is getting to meet and know our fellow pastors and leaders. We got to know one another. We learned about children and grandchildren, gardens, recreation, and tons of dogs and cats! Some pastors are new like Holly Hoppe (St. Luke, Downers Grove), Brent Anderson (Community, Lombard), Julie Johnson (Wildwood, Grayslake) and Elias Cabarcas Arroyo  (Dia Nuevo, Hanover Park). It was great seeing these new pastors meet and greet with other pastors and leaders of the presbytery. Nothing beats touching flesh and blood and meeting one another eye to eye. The fellowship alone made the retreat a success!

The pastors and leaders in our presbytery are courageous, compassionate, sensitive, and caring. These are not traits and characteristics learned in seminary or divinity school. This is their character. This is just who they are as people. When God calls people to a pastoral vocation, God calls the whole person. And God wants us to use all of who we are in ministry as well.

The pastors and leaders in our presbytery are not perfect. Pastors make mistakes too. Unfortunately, the post-COVID church appears to be a bit more stressful than the pre-COVID times. It could be the result of lower membership, tighter budgets, and increasing overhead. The presbytery is experiencing more stress in congregations with predictable results of conflict. Pastors and leaders tend to blame themselves when things don’t go as expected. They are often the first to forgive others as they struggle to forgive themselves.

At this retreat we learned to have compassion on ourselves. The same gentleness pastors and leaders express to others must be turned inwardly. We learned that it’s okay to forgive ourselves. It’s okay to care for ourselves. When we release ourselves from the baggage of guilt, we often unleash creativity and energy. We tend to find solutions that were masked and hidden, and we can enter into healthy relationships with others.

Special thanks to the Mental Health committee, Barbara Wilson, and the entire staff. We appreciate the PDA staff that led our retreat. A huge thank-you to Southminster, Arlington Heights, for lending us their beautiful labyrinth. A final thank-you to the pastors, chaplains, and elders who took the time to get away, retreat, reflect, recenter, renew, relax, and rest. May the seeds you planted grow and spread, bringing joy, curiosity, compassion, and grace to all who find shade in your ministry.

Rev. Craig Howard