It’s awfully hard to make plans right now, Pastor Chad Whaley, acknowledged. “It’s challenging to rally people at church. Decisions need to be made and projects have to move forward, but everyone is just tired.”
That busy, tired feeling is ubiquitous for many pastors and congregations. We don’t know how long we’ll be in this pandemic, and it already feels like it’s been a long time. Whaley admits, at times it’s “tough to see the light at the end of tunnel,” but he knows we’re going to get there. In this liminal season, with so much uncertainty and fatigue, what do we do in the meantime? How do we listen to the Spirit, experience renewal, or just find the strength to get out of bed?
Whaley is solo pastor of a small congregation, which, before March 13th, had no online service and few techies in the congregation. Creating online worship services and community fell on his shoulders, and he went months with very few days off, because it was so busy. That hectic pace was not sustainable.
Pastor Whaley builds resilience and avoids burnout through spiritual discipline practices. With nine years of experience as a pastor, Whaley has developed spiritual discipline practices that help reorient his mindset. He begins most days by going to the nave and listing 10 things he’s grateful for. He keeps the lists, his poems, prayers, and other spiritual writings in a binder. This practice of writing, which also includes handwritten notes and postcards he prays over in front of the altar and then mails, are a gift to his congregation and to himself. Other practices include centering prayers, journaling, and at times working with a spiritual director and a counselor.
These practices reorient him, invite him to dwell in Christ’s love, and set things in perspective. They help keep his spirits up, sustain, and center him. In the midst of anxiety and frustration, these practices, Whaley explains, are “healing for my soul.”
You might also see Pastor Whaley on the golf course. He enjoys the weather, the beauty of God’s creation, and admits it’s one of the few places where he can go to forget about everything else. If you’re driving through West Branch and hear a Lutheran pastor on the 9th tee praising God or yelling “fore,” know it’s good for the soul.