By Adriane Heins
“We really don’t like to talk about the fact that we have church workers who are spiritually, emotionally and psychologically not well,” admitted the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission. “If the workers are not well, the ministries or churches or schools or institutions they serve are also not well, or they suffer in a significant way.”
That’s why Day called together for a Nov. 18 joint meeting leaders from four groups that are already taking care of church workers in real and significant ways — Concordia Plan Services, DOXOLOGY, Grace Place Lutheran Wellness Ministries and Shepherd’s Canyon Retreat.
Nurturing church workers is one of the Synod’s six chief mission priorities that were adopted at the 2013 LCMS convention. While Soldiers and Veterans of the Cross — both programs designed to assist struggling rostered workers or their widows — have been helpful financially, it’s time to “up the game,” said Day.
Day held individual meetings with the leaders from the four worker-wellness organizations, learning more about the work of each as well as what makes them unique. “All of these organizations receive funding from the Office of National Mission, so it was helpful to have those conversations so that we could better understand how those dollars are being used,” noted Day. “At the same time, it was obvious that there is a shared common bond between these organizations — having strong, healthy, well workers in the church.”
The organizations’ next assignment was to “work through what would happen if they could really dream big and do what they’ve always wanted to do, what it would cost and look like, ways in which they could expand their program to care for even more workers,” said Day. “I wanted to see what kind of funding this would require, because while the Office of National Mission is supporting worker wellness, the mission priority cannot be fulfilled by that office alone. It has to be done by these entities and others working collaboratively together — each in unique ways — to care for workers.”
Finally, Day brought all the organizations together to dialogue. “It’s the first time that all the key stakeholders in Synod who are involved in worker wellness came together,” he said. Discussion topics ranged from funding, to creating a wellness council, to how to work together in the future to care for the church and community surrounding the suffering church worker. Ultimately, “the Office of National Mission has to raise the conversation within the whole church about worker wellness. It’s not an easy story to tell,” Day explained.
Dr. John Eckrich, president and CEO of Grace Place Lutheran Wellness Ministries, took part in the joint meeting, noting that “Grace Place is thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with the Office of National Mission and other RSOs to encourage the health and well-being of our church workers and leaders.”
“Significant needs still exist. There is much more to be done,” added the Rev. David Muench, director of Ministerial Care for Concordia Plan Services.
“One of the greatest joys of the day was to experience the unity in the room,” said Muench. “It was a day on which Concordia Plan Services could live our mission to ‘Walk with LCMS ministries in caring for the workers and their families’ as we continue in our commitment to play a major role in providing for the health and wellness of church workers.”
“The LCMS is blessed with fine entities working to support our church workers and their families in distinct but complementary ways,” said the Rev. Dr. Harold Senkbeil, executive director for Spiritual Care at DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel. “As one of DOXOLOGY’s executive directors, I was pleased to share the DOXOLOGY story at the worker-wellness meeting and hear of the helpful work being done by Grace Place and Shepherd’s Canyon.”
The group, which now plans to meet annually, came away with a clear set of goals: “We need to up the game in how we fund these organizations,” said Day. “We need a very clear plan on how the Office of National Mission will support their work directly and indirectly to continue to expand their capacity with as many partners as possible. We need these organizations to be understood as a collective voice to gain exposure in the church. We need to look at what other denomi nations are doing to see what we can learn from their work. We need to leverage the research of each organization to see collectively what we can learn about our LCMS church workers.”
Ultimately, Day said, the objective is to see a church filled with healthy, vibrant workers. This meeting, and its ensuing work, will be the first step of “creating a better menu of wellness tools so that church workers know what’s available and so that we can help and care for them.”
Participants in the meeting represented:
- the LCMS Office of National Mission, which gives supplemental funding for worker wellness in excess of $850,000 annually.
- Grace Place — offering “preventative wellness skills, attitudes and resources to our Lutheran professional church workers and their families, so they can carry forth the Gospel message of salvation in Christ, and live and serve His people abundantly in body, mind and spirit.” Visit graceplacewellness.org or facebook.com/graceplacewellness.
- DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel, which “offers an innovative program of advanced study retreats to strengthen pastors for the task of faithfully shepherding the souls entrusted to their care.” Learn more at doxology.us.
- Concordia Plan Services — “the LCMS benefits provider of choice for more than 6,000 LCMS congregations, schools, universities, seminaries and other organizations in the United States and in mission fields worldwide.” See concordiaplans.org or visit facebook.com/ConcordiaPlanServices.
- Shepherd’s Canyon Retreat — “committed to the emotional and spiritual healing of clergy and other church workers who have exhausted their best and seek renewal.” Learn more at shepherdscanyonretreat.com.
Admitting you have a problem is the first, unskippable step to becoming healthy. So few will admit they have a problem or sincerely don’t believe they do.