My dad was a chemical engineer and managed an ammonia plant in west Texas. Every year, usually just before the fall, they would go through a shutdown and disassemble much of the chemical plant, inspect, clean, and refurbish each piece, and then reassemble it and begin production again. One might think that they were not productive during that time, since nothing was being made. However, without that shutdown and reset, the entire operation would come to a halt through malfunction and wear. The real risk was that an unexpected malfunction could be hazardous, even deadly, to the workers and the surrounding area. It was well worth their time to shut down.
I was recently on the Cumberland Plateau in middle Tennessee, spending some time at the hermitage of the convent for the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province. I go on retreat there each fall to worship with the Sisters, read, pray, and just spend time in the quiet. There is no cell signal, no Wi-Fi – it helps me disconnect so that I can reconnect with God, myself, and the people in my life. Now, if I didn’t take that time of apparent non-productivity, I might get more done in the short-term, but like my dad’s ammonia plant, it would not end well for me, nor those around me, at some point.
It’s vital for each of us, in whatever way works for each of us, to find time to reconnect, refresh, and renew ourselves and our relationships. For some that may be quiet retreat; for others it may be a hobby or pastime that helps them reset. It may be focused on reinvesting in family or community or rooted in scripture or prayer. Perhaps no one needs that down-time as much as our clergy in active ministries, whether congregations or schools or hospitals or wherever they may serve. The role of a priest or deacon in a community is complex and requires a lot from the cleric to do that in a healthy way. Clergy work to maintain good boundaries; they seek the resources they need to stay emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy; and they strive to be accountable with the community they serve for the ongoing work of ministry. Clergy need to be sure to take their down time to reset so that we all can do ministry together well and in healthy ways.
So, if you’re a church member or lay leader, be sure to check in with your priest or deacon. Encourage them to take the time that they need, whether it’s a regular day off, vacation time, or time away, like this month’s Clergy Conference. Or it may take the form of personal retreat time or, more significantly, sabbatical time. Clergy are really, really dedicated to their work and the shared ministry of the Gospel that we pursue in every congregation. They may need some assurance that it’s okay to unplug, to step away, to shut down for a bit. It’s good for everyone.