I used to be a competitive cross-country runner in high school. Sometimes at the starting line of a big race I would yawn. At first that really scared me, “If I’m tired already, how can I run this race and help my team?” I learned from my coach, Mr. Burg, that some people yawn as a natural stress response to help calm the body. In August at the start of this new church year, despite having had most of July off, I found myself yawning often. I had that same worry about feeling exhausted when I was supposed to be feeling energized for the challenge ahead. That was one of the first signs of burnout.
In those cross country races, I would sometimes nudge myself to smile. Smiling, like the yawning, actually helped release tension during the race. It was also an important mind-body reminder that running through the woods is actually a form of play! I’ve been doing some of that since the start of this church year too–smiling despite the Zoom fatigue, smiling to try to embrace the creative challenges of how to stay connected when we’re not together. Don’t get me wrong–anytime I’m with all of you–whether telling a story during worship, leading a movement game in our Zoom Children’s Chapel, hanging out around the fire with the youth groups, or any other interactions, my smile is genuine. All the time with you, especially in-person, is very soul-filling. It’s just that there’s now an underlying layer of burnout.
This pandemic has asked extraordinary things of all of us. Over these 20 months, that has simply started to wear me down. One thing I admired about Coach Burg is that he always gave us the day after a race completely off from practice. He actually insisted we NOT run. He said the rest time–mental and physical– was as important as the training time.
I feel so grateful that when I recently reached out to my current “coaches” – Rev. Joan, the LSE Committee, members of the Executive Team and others in church leadership – I’ve was met with understanding and support. Just last week Rev. Joan and the Executive Team approved my request to use some of my accrued sick leave to take the months of January and February off for some deep rest and tending of my spiritual, mental, and physical wellness. I am already feeling an easing of my spirit! I am aware this is a huge privilege. I wish we all had a workplace culture like the one here at UCM, with supervisors as dedicated and supportive as Rev. Joan, the Executive Team and UCM Board.
I was not feeling this way last year. Work was really grounding me and sustaining me during all those unknowns. But this pandemic has gone from a sprint, to a middle distance race, to now an ultramarathon of unknown duration. I need a rest.
I want you all to know, this burnout is not your fault. I’m so thankful for all the precious amazing LSE volunteers without whom the LSE program would be nowhere right now. I’m thankful to all the children, youth, and adults who have kept participating and stayed connected in whatever way you can muster. I’m buoyed constantly by the small notes of gratitude in the chat, the precious and rare in-person connections, or the emails of encouragement you’ve all shared with me. I’m grateful to those who have had to bow out but say you’ll be back when we’re back! I know that my efforts are seen and appreciated by congregants and colleagues alike.
From now through Christmas Eve I will touch base with the LSE volunteer teams, to answer questions and make sure they have all they need to carry on for the first couple months of the new year. I am also looking forward to leading this Sunday’s pre-worship Children’s Chapel, Sunday afternoon’s Solstice Circles, and the first ever Outdoor No Rehearsal Christmas Pageant on Christmas Eve! The pageant will be my final program that I lead until my return in March.
The various teams of LSE volunteers will do their best to get announcements in the e-news or at least to the contact lists they work with. Remember – they are volunteers. You may not hear from them as soon as you’d like. They will have to make some decisions, or work through some problems, without me and they will need your support and encouragement and patience. Remember, they’re living through this same extended pandemic too. Rev. Joan has offered to be a support and sounding board when needed. Even with all this support, we may need to let some non-essential programs go for a while and that will be okay.
For now, the plan is that volunteer teams will keep offering the following:
- Pre-worship Children’s Chapel–for children and their caregivers–via Zoom. 9:15-9:45am each Sunday (except for an occasional Sunday off, like Dec. 26th)
- Middle School Youth Group – 1-3pm at the Old Shelter in Hubbard Park Jan. 9th and Feb. 6th.
- High School Youth Group – monthly meetings – details via email and What’s App.
- Chalice Circles (Queerality, Small Group Ministry, Seasoned Souls, and Soul Matters) will continue on their schedules as needed
- John Poeton will be reaching out in the coming weeks to families / youth who might be interested in participating in Bridging (for h.s. seniors)
- Mara Iverson will reach out to volunteers and families to see if there’s interest in a modified 7th-9th grade sexuality education program (a condensed version of Our Whole Lives).
We will be relocating the Lifespan Spiritual Exploration library (with some books from the Climate Action Team) from my front porch back to the church. Stay tuned to the e-news. If you have any books that have been out for over a month, please try to return them to my porch by Wed. Dec. 22nd. Rev. Joan is excited to find some set times during the week when the library will be “open” and people can come inside the church to borrow books. Stay tuned to the e-news for updates and hours.
I am taking this time to care for myself so that I can return energized to better care for our community. We are all still navigating the intense challenges of this drawn out pandemic. I find comfort knowing that all around us nature offers sanctuary. I hope to spend much of my time grounding and playing outside in nature–both by myself, with my family, and with friends. We live on a resilient planet, where ecosystems hold and support each other. I’m grateful for the space, within this community, that holds and supports me, and I hope our congregation continues to provide you that space as you need it, in the weeks and months and many years ahead.
P.S. I know some of you may see yourself in this story. I will share some resources put together by a colleague, Rev. Lee Paczulla, from Wellsprings UU in Kimberton, PA. It was helpful for me and might help you too, in learning about burnout, and making a plan to ask for help and recover. You can find it here. I’m also playing this song “Joy Comes Back” by Ruthie Foster daily and hope it might lift any of you who are feeling a bit downhearted right now.