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Asking the Clergy: How do you keep from burning out in your ministry?

From left, Rabbi Anchelle Perl of Chabad of

From left, Rabbi Anchelle Perl of Chabad of Mineola, the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, and the Rev. Petra Thombs of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau. Credit: Danielle Silverman; Jeffrey Basinger; Bernie Thombs

Serving during a pandemic is apparently taking a toll on clergy morale, with one recent national poll finding, for instance, that 38% of pastors are seriously considering leaving full-time ministry, up from 29% a year ago. This week’s clergy discuss self-care and other ways they avoid thinking of joining the "great resignation."

Rabbi Anchelle Perl

Director, Chabad of Mineola

First, I take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting.

Second, it's most important to keep a consistent daily routine when possible, one that is similar to my schedule before the pandemic. Strengthening my positivity bias has become my rallying call. It has become reinforced with my increased study of tales of our people — both saintly and simple individuals — who are displaying almost superhuman characteristics of restraint, tranquility and selflessness.

Key to staying on top of burnout is to seek to deepen one’s mindfulness of a personal relationship each of us has with the Almighty. Expanding one’s trust in God amplifies one’s sense of security and certainty.

Also, to keep me above the fray, I sing my favorite Hasidic song, "If life climbs this way or that / Or slides like that or this / We must be constantly joyful! / If life soars this way or that / Or veers like that or this / We must be constantly joyful!"

The Rev. Petra Thombs

Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau, Garden City

I understand that there is a lot of burnout among clergy because of the pandemic, but I’m new in my role as a minister, having been ordained in May.

I had previously served as a guest minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau and officially began my new position on Sept. 12. We were able to gather in person then, following such protocols as masking and signing in for contact tracing.

I was excited and admittedly nervous for my first Christmas service as minister, but it turned out we were going to be virtual because of the rise in cases apparently caused by the omicron variant. I realized I had to go with the flow — there was nothing I could do about the change in plans.

What I recognize as I look to the challenges ahead, is the need to be flexible and to provide self-care, which is recognizing the gift of time to take care of myself, maintain a work-life balance and create boundaries that allow me to breathe. It means taking a break from reading and writing, and outreaching to enjoy family, friends and time for movies with my husband. I must minister to myself so that I can minister to others.

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter

Pastor, Congregational Church of Patchogue

Being a clergyperson is a calling, not a job. Every clergyperson I know has worked harder during the pandemic than before it.

Our congregants are dealing with loss and trauma. Our youngest person with COVID-19 is 4 years old. Recently, a 42-year-old single mother passed from earthly existence because of COVID-19.

I wish God had promised me that during the pandemic I could proclaim the end of hunger, domestic violence and illness. But many food banks are near empty, domestic violence has spiked, and I was treated for cancer.

God did forewarn me, however, that I would suffer, as did Jesus, all the indignities that life hurls our way. And God promised to be with me through it all. I try to build boundaries around my job, without building walls around my heart. I try to rest, eat healthy foods, meditate, maintain inspirational interests, exercise regularly and pray frequently.

Some days are better than others. I know that many clergy are overwhelmed, ill or have left ministry. God bless them. We all can endure only so much. Today, I remain grateful for the opportunity, come what may, to be of service to God, who loves us all, without exception.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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