By Jaquelyn Foster
It is likely that most of us – whether pastors or lay persons – think of our Regional Ministers when we need their particular ministry, when our congregation is looking for a new pastor, or when pastors are searching for a new congregation. We might call our Regional Minister if the congregation or pastor is in conflict or crisis. If we are on a Regional Board or Commission or we attend an Assembly, we might see our Regional Ministry staff there. All in all, however, we might not give much thought to the lives of those who are in Regional Ministry. We who live our life and ministry in the local congregation, or in chaplaincy or another setting tend to forget, if we ever knew, what the day to day life of those in regional ministry is like.
In just one Regional Minister’s report at a Board meeting, I noted that in a 3 month period a Regional minister had 37 pastoral care/nurture visits with pastors and their families; attended 8 clergy cluster meetings in 4 different areas of the Region; was a strong pastoral presence for a pastor, his family, and the congregation as that pastor was dying; met with congregational search committees; helped pastors negotiate the Search and Call process; attended the board meetings of 3 congregations in crisis; participated in the Regional Board meeting; attended 2 Disciples Women’s meetings, a church camp meeting, a Mission division meeting, a Nurture division meeting, an Anti-Racism committee meeting, a Nominating Committee meeting, Regional Elder’s Institute, the Commission on Ministry, a Ministry division meeting where 6 ministers were commissioned, and 4 Listening conferences; served as the speaker at 4 different events; participated in 2 ordinations; and preached in 5 congregations. And these activities were so spread out geographically that they entailed hundreds of miles of travel. All of this, in addition to the day to day administration of the Region, the representation in ecumenical and interfaith work, and preparation and planning for all of the above.
Our Regional Minister has a family with a spouse and child at home, aging parents in another state, and is, of course, a participating member of a local congregation. In other words the Regional Minister is a person with a full life!
One of the great gifts in our Disciples’ church life is that our pastors and congregations have the support of good Regional, Area, and Associate Regional Ministers. We are not alone in ministry. When our burden as pastors is heavy; when our congregations go through transitions and need guidance; when we are negotiating the rough waters of ministry; and when we are lifted up by joy, and swept up in mission our Regional Ministry staff is there to support us.
The question is: “Who supports them?” When they are exhausted and a crisis or need arises in a congregation or with a pastor who is a couple of hundred miles from them, they can face a long day and night; and then another and another. When they have their own family and personal crises, who fills in for them? When they become the targets for criticism as difficult regional decisions are made, who stands beside them? When their health is suffering, who encourages and supports them in self-care?
As a local pastor serving on the General Commission on Ministry, I have the privilege of working with a number of Regional Ministers who help to make our work possible by sharing their time and energy with us. Sometimes, I don’t know where they are finding that time and energy! What I do know is that they need our care. The Support Committee of GCOM has given some thought to the concern for those in Regional Ministry. We have focused on this in part because we see the needs directly, and in part because some wonderful people in our Regions have raised the question: “What can I do when I am concerned for the health and well-being of my Regional Minister?”
• The fact that you are paying attention and noticing the work load and schedule of your Regional Minister is important. As our Regions face financial constraints, we have reduced our Regional staffs very often removing support staff as well as reducing the number of Regional Ministers. Our Regional Ministers are trying to do it all. We can help them by nurturing in our Regions a concept of shared ministry!
• Regional Ministers need self-care. They need to live and work within healthy parameters – just as we all do. Encourage them to take regular days off and to really take the day off!
• Some days we simply cannot do all that we believe we must do. If people are complaining about the Regional Minister remind them of the RM’s responsibilities and schedule. Encourage them to take part in the work of the Region so that they understand the depth and breadth of the issues at hand.
The General Commission on Ministry recently addressed the question of who to contact when one hears concerns for the health and well-being of a Regional Minister. We hope you may find this guideline helpful:
“Each concern and circumstance is different, and each Region has different structures in place for the care of Regional Ministers. We recommend that one with a concern for the well-being of his/her Regional Minister or one who hears multiple expressions of similar concerns (to the degree that it seems that it should be brought to the attention of someone who might help) contact one of these supportive groups or leaders. This is a good order of contact, for instance the first place to go is the Regional PRC or Personnel Committee.
Regional Pastoral Relations Committee or Personnel Committee
(not all regions have a PRC, but may have Personnel Committee)
President of the College of Regional Ministers
That Regional Minister’s Racial Ethnic Pastor/Executive (if there is one)
The General Minister and President
It is important to remember that we live out our ministry and care for one another in covenantal relationship.”
This October as we celebrate The Week of the Ministry, may we remember those in Regional Ministry. Our care-givers need care too!