Each fall, COMISS Network: the Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings, sponsors a week to recognize and affirm Pastoral Care providers. This year’s theme is Spiritual Resilience. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship endorses over 728 chaplains and pastoral counselors who provide pastoral care in a variety of specialized settings. This week we will hear from six of these as they reflect on spiritual resilience in their ministries. As you read their reflections take a moment to express appreciation to those who provide pastoral care in your community.
By Stephanie McLesky
We are accepted, welcomed, loved, and celebrated by our God—our Holy Parent—our Lord, Teacher, Guide, Healer, Savior and Sacred Friend.
If we believe this—really believe this and allow it to settle in our hearts and shape our days —then we know we always have a source of nurture and sustenance in hard times. As chaplains and pastoral counselors, we are finding ways of demonstrating this truth to those we serve, but we must also remember it for ourselves.
At Mars Hill University, my office serves the campus through what we call our “seven sacred tasks”—pastoral care, spiritual formation, social justice, vocational exploration, interfaith engagement, leadership development and connection to the wider church.
I have only recently gained the vocabulary of spiritual resilience, but I have realized that it is what we have been doing all along as we provide a voice of hope, as we walk alongside people who are hurting or grieving, as we provide guidance to those seeking to find purpose, as we build relationships and as we encourage people to reach out in service to a cause larger than that of the protection and security of their own interests. What looks like a Bible study is also a place for people to experience a sense of belonging, and for people to hear a word of hope. What looks like a mission trip is also a time for people to gain perspective on their own troubles, and for people to share in a common purpose.
We do not have a curriculum for spiritual resilience (although I am feeling inspired as I write and ponder such a possibility), but across the MHU campus there is a whole network of opportunities for students to increase their resilience. Our office cannot and does not, and has not been asked to do this work alone.
There are amazing things happening all over our campus to help students form supportive community. There are student organizations based around cultural ties, like our Native American Student Association. There are organizations based around support and advocacy, like Safe Haven, for members and allies of our LGBTQ population. There are organizations based around common interests, like our gospel choir. On campus we also have a space called the “Breathing Room” where students, faculty and staff come together for yoga and meditation practices.
Our First Year Experience office has developed a whole program called “Connections” to get new students connected with resources, with the larger campus community and with each other. All of these support the strengthening of spiritual resilience, and I am grateful that in my setting I am able to make these and many other suggestions to students, knowing that in these spaces they will receive that same message: you are welcomed, accepted, loved and celebrated.
I would lose all integrity, though, if I wrote this joyful piece without a hefty confession: as a chaplain, the constant focus on helping others can be terribly draining, and one’s own spiritual resilience can take a hit. For me personally, it took the contemplation of writing this piece to realize just how much of a hit I have taken myself. I desperately want to set aside time for personal spiritual practices, but that is one of the first places from which I will steal time in order to work on my to-do list for the day. The other place that loses time is sleep—even though that’s one of the first things I ask students about when they are struggling. I find myself staying up later, getting up earlier, and tricking myself into thinking that an academic discussion of Scripture or a time of leading prayer or worship will provide the same nourishment as a personal discipline.
The truth is that I often find myself essentially preparing a banquet without ever joining the table or even tasting the food, and this practice has left me feeling raw. Discussions with colleagues suggest that I am not alone. And so I say this here in the hopes that others might join me: I will make an effort to practice what I preach. I will recommit myself to that which is life-giving. I desire to drink from the well of hope, to join in the party and not only to give but also to receive the gifts of those seven sacred tasks.
The message is not only for those we serve. We are accepted, welcomed, loved and celebrated by our God—our Holy Parent—our Lord, Teacher, Guide, Healer, Savior and Sacred Friend. May we draw on this truth and claim it for ourselves. May it bless our work, our lives and our souls.
Stephanie McLesky is a CBF-endorsed chaplain serving at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina.