The Church of the Sick and Tired, Literally

There have been times when, over the course of my almost nine-year relationship with Old South Church, I look out at the congregation on a Sunday morning and I get very close to being overwhelmed when I think about the people who are gazing back at me, as well as those who are not, because they are missing. I’m in the midst of one of those seasons once again at Old South. It has become difficult to look out and think of someone who is NOT sick, or tired, or caring for someone who is sick or elderly.

I can hardly have a conversation these days that does not involve an up-date on someone’s illness, or the illness (or aging) of a loved one, or the significant feeling of being tired, mostly tired of doing the same old thing. Lots of Old South folk seem to be doing the same things, year after year, without much of a break. While we have some new faces taking up some of the tasks of church life, we don’t have enough new faces to experience a real shift in leadership. We still rely on some of the same people to do a lot of the work of the church.

It’s draining—for them and for me.

And, the level of sickness, directly and indirectly, is approaching distressing proportions for this small community. It’s not too hard to keep track of those within the congregation who are dealing with some kind of illness or medical problem, though the list is long for a community this size. But, trying to keep track of those who are dealing directly with the illness of a loved one, whether near or far, is getting difficult and complicated.

It’s the church of the sick and tired—literally.

This past Sunday, on Pentecost, I was trying to get engaged in the power and the extraordinary nature of the story of the birthday of the Church, that some of us may have lost sight of in its familiarity. But, then, I also had a moment of wondering if I should just send them all home for the summer, telling them to rest and to be ready to come back in the fall for a season of learning and growth, and productivity—like we might be doing if we were a public school. So many of them looked tired. And, then, there really was no getting away from the fact that attendance was low. A few people are away or involved with more fun family activities of this time of year (graduations and weddings). But, there were noticeable absences from people I know to be sick, or just too frail to get to worship (it was a rough winter).

Where is our Pentecost spirit when we are tired and sick? Does the mighty wind blow through us in a fresh and exciting way, or does it feel like we are just getting knocked over?

We already have lots of concerns about our present and future, and the difficult nature of being the church in a part of the world that is not thriving. But, now we are worried in considerable ways about significant numbers of people. It’s hard to think about evangelism when one is sick, or caring for a loved one who is sick, or worried about the missing pew neighbor who is struggling with cancer.

I see the remarkable nature of caring and compassion in the congregation of Old South, but I’m also beginning to see the signs of caring fatigue. There’s just not enough good news to balance all of the troubling and concerning news. So, despite the warmer weather and the blossoming of trees and flowers all around us, we—as a church—are not really experiencing much of a spring. We are still in winter—at least in spirit.

And hoping that summer will bring some healing, and relief, or at least a better sense of God’s grace and hope.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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