Clergy Faith and Wellness: how is it with my soul?

Rev. Shelly Petz


Today on my calendar, I, like many of you, would have been attending the opening day of Annual Conference of the Great Plains Conference. I have been attending Annual Conference since I was 14 years old. It is a part of me. It is family. It is home. It is where laity and clergy come together to worship, remember, dream, sing, do business, learn, and connect. I love that it is part revival, part continuing education, part business meeting. It is where I began to find my voice so many years ago. Seeing the beauty and the heartache of what can happen at an annual conference has helped me to explore my own call and passion for providing space for clergy in the conference to be their best selves, to flourish, to take care of their faith and well-being for the greater good of the ministry of the church. It has helped me see laity and clergy at their best and worst, and to give thanks to God for one another.

Annual Conference was one of the first places I began to understand the depth of the question that John Wesley asked at the beginning of every small group meeting, "How is it with your soul?" That is a deep question. A deep question that goes beyond ... how are you? how's the weather? what's up? That is the question I offer for each of us today, to be vulnerable enough to share it with one another and with God who knows before we can even speak.
How is it with my soul?
My soul grieves that we cannot join in person for Annual Conference to worship with dear friends and colleagues and be strengthened for the journey. My soul grieves for the lives lost, future stories changed forever, unemployment, and the unknown. My soul is weary. It is weary from worry, compassion, and decision fatigue. My soul is crying out in anger and injustice at the things that I see going on that do not match up with how I understand God's reign in heaven or on earth. My soul is tired of the fighting and finger pointing that happens every day in homes, in congregations, in communities, in the world. My soul is vulnerable, because I have realized how much I thought was in my control really isn't. My soul sings songs of lament.
Then I breathe.
Sometimes it takes two, or ten, or twenty breaths now.
I ask myself the question again. How is it with my soul?
My soul is humbled. My soul sings a song of praise. My soul begins to see beauty in the smallest thing around me and finds a moment of nourishment and refreshment. My soul can needs it. I let it find it. As I take my weekly sabbath, and daily moments of set apart time, my soul is well. I am reminded that in my soul being well, it doesn't mean that all things are well...but I know that I can draw water from the well of living water...and find life, and love, and hope for this moment. That is enough for today.
One of the books that has really been helpful to me lately is called "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry" by Ruth Haley Barton. I would like to share an excerpt from the book that she wrote, that is then followed by a prayer by Ted Loder. Hear these words:
Someone has said, "You'd be surprised at what your soul wants to say to God." For those of us who are in leadership, it is often hard to find space that is quiet enough and safe enough for the soul to be as honest as it needs to be. We don't often take the time to sit quietly by the base of the tree of our own lives and wait for the wild animal we seek to put in an appearance. Here is an invitation to sit quietly for a few moments for the sole purpose of allowing your soul to say what it needs to say to God. Don't try to force anything or work hard to make something happen. The soul runs from such attempts. Just sit quietly in God's presence and see what shows itself. This may take time but when your soul has finally said that thing that it has been waiting to say, you will know. If you sit long enough, you might also be surprised at what God wants to say to your soul.
Holy One,
there is something I wanted to tell you
but there have been errands to run,
bills to pay,
arrangements to make,
meetings to attend,
friends to entertain,
washing to do...
and I forget what it is I wanted to say to you,
and mostly I forget what I'm about,
or why.
O God, 
don't forget me please,
for the sake of Jesus Christ...
O Father in Heaven,
perhaps you've already heard what I wanted to tell you.  
What I wanted to ask is
forgive me,
heal me,
increase my courage, please.
Renew in me a little of love and faith,
and a sense of confidence,
and a vision of what it might mean
to live as though you were real,
and I mattered,
and everyone was sister and brother.
What I wanted to ask in my blundering way is
don't give up on me,
don't become too sad about me,
but laugh with me,
and try again with me,
and I will with you, too.
So, I ask you, "How is it with your soul?"
-- Rev. Shelly Petz
Clergy Faith and Wellness