Ministries Partner to Support Disciples Clergy and Families Post-Harvey

NBA   |   January 12, 2018
Staff and participants at the "Care for the Journey" retreatStaff and participants at the "Care for the Journey" retreat

“Our church was decimated and flooded. It was heartbreaking to see our place of worship covered in mud, water, and slime. As the waters receded and repairing the campus got underway, we knew that life had changed forever and recovery was a long way off.  Nothing would be the same.” ~Aaron Nelson, Cypress Creek Christian Church

"Our well-being is sacred," affirms Angela Whitenhill, Mental Health Initiative Manager with the National Benevolent Association. That’s why three Disciples ministries worked together to host a spiritual wellness retreat for 21 clergy and their families who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

The “Care for the Journey” retreat was held January 3-5 in Scottsdale, Arizona, cosponsored by Week of Compassion, National Benevolent Association, and the Pension Fund, with program assistance from Family and Children's Ministries of Disciples Home Missions. Designed to support clergy and their families as the new year begins, the retreat offered skills for self-care, time to process experiences together, and the opportunity to renew for the extended post-Harvey recovery.

As clergy and families of Southeast Texas have experienced, awareness of their own limitations, needs, and capacities to respond to the call of unexpected crisis is key to successfully being present with others. Implementing regular practices that encourage resiliency, bring life to one's soul, and deepen connection with God are critical to the work of pastors, community leaders, care-givers and their families.  

“This retreat was an amazing experience for me and my entire family,” says Rev. Tami Nelson, Minister of Children at Cypress Creek Christian Church. “The first floor of our children and youth building was completely damaged, leaving our children without a designated space for worship and play. Immediately after the storm, I struggled with how to change what I delivered to the children, and how to do it in a meaningful way in light of the constraints. I also struggled to find how I could help in the recovery as a staff person and as a worshipper; I felt I couldn't find the right beat in either role. During the retreat, I learned to self-manage and find balance.  Acknowledging my limits, whether they're imposed by me or circumstances, will allow me to maintain a healthy balance at home and in ministry.”

Self-Care in Times of Crisis

Rev. Monica Wedlock Kilpatrick, Director of Connect Ministries with NBA, emphasizes how important mental health, wellness, and self-care are in the midst of crisis. “Job descriptions never include a line about good self-care practices and management as an essential responsibility, yet we all know that those who care well for themselves make better leaders and serve our ministries with greater competency. This retreat provided an opportunity for Disciples clergy and families to learn more about and practice how care for themselves impacts the care and leadership they will be able to give back to others during this long journey to recovery." 

Through structured sessions facilitated by Angela Whitenhill and Rev. Héctor J. Hernández of the NBA Mental Health Initiative, participants explored the effects of disaster-related trauma; an analysis of what gives us life and what depletes us in times of crisis; and self-care strategies to implement throughout the challenges of recovery. Programming also included intentional family activities; free time for hiking, rest, conversations, and off-site outings; and community worship.

“Disaster recovery is a long process, affecting the life of a community for years. The emotional strain, collective grief, and increased workload can lead to burnout, especially among pastors,” says Caroline Hamilton-Arnold, Associate Director with Week of Compassion. “By supporting the spiritual and mental wellness of our Disciples pastors from areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, we are undergirding the leadership they provide to their congregations and communities."

Mid-way through the retreat programming, participants were asked how they were feeling. Responses included:

invigorated – revitalizado
grounded – alentado
refreshed – renovado
restored – restaurado
energized – energizado

“This collaboration with Week of Compassion, National Benevolent Association, and Pension Fund was an opportunity to serve Gulf Coast ministers and their families in a very practical way,” says Matt Rosine, Executive Director of Programs with Pension Fund. “Several pastors I spoke to said they didn’t realize how tired they were until they arrived and let themselves feel fatigue. Through this collaboration, they found space to care for their souls and find new rhythms to sustain their ministry.”

Participants affirmed that this partnership of ministries provided a much-needed opportunity for rest and renewal. “It was lovely to have proclamations of support from the general church be backed up by tangible action,” says Rev. Elizabeth Grasham, Pastor of Heights Christian Church.

Aaron Nelson of Cypress Creek Christian Church agrees: “The retreat was like a ray of sunshine through the clouds. It meant so much to know that friends from across the country cared about us and made time to care for the caregivers.”

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As general ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), this collaborative ministry event was held and offered in the spirit of our common Disciples identity of sustaining a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

Week of Compassion is the relief, refugee, and development mission fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. We seek to equip and empower disciples to alleviate the suffering of others through disaster response, humanitarian aid, sustainable development and the promotion of mission opportunities. 

As the health and social services general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the National Benevolent Association partners with congregations, regions, general ministries, and a variety of Disciples-related health and social service providers to create communities of compassion and care. Founded in 1887 by six women responding to the needs of the day and on their doorsteps, for more than 130 years we have continued to serve "the least of these." 

Pension Fund is a financial ministry that provides retirement, disability, and death benefits for over 12,500 employees of Stone-Campbell and Restoration Movement ministries and organizations across the globe. As part of our mission, we successfully manage approximately $3 billion in financial assets so our members can live fully in retirement. Our personalized service and prudent management have one goal: to support the church and its ministry worldwide. 


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