By Cheryl Magness
Last fall, the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM) offered grants to the 35 LCMS districts for resiliency programs designed to support commissioned church workers as well as contracted LCMS teachers during COVID-19. Funds for the grants came from the Soldiers of the Cross—Amplified program.
Several districts have already implemented the resiliency programs, which were collaboratively developed by Dr. Rebecca Schmidt, director of LCMS School Ministry; Deaconess Tiffany Manor, director of LCMS Life Ministry; and education executives at the districts. The programs included:
- Professional development sessions focused on worker resiliency;
- Church worker wellness components at church worker/educator conferences;
- Guidance for schools and congregations in developing local programs to care for workers; and
- The creation of peer groups with facilitators to provide support and expertise for dealing with the challenges of the pandemic.
All of the programs emphasized self-care, resilience and strategies for adapting to the changing circumstances of the pandemic.
Brenda Jank, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Run Hard. Rest Well. (RHRW), has already led resiliency programs for several LCMS districts and is poised to lead more. Jank, an LCMS director of Christian education (DCE), formerly served as program director of Camp Lutherhaven in Albion, Ind. She discovered a passion for church worker wellness 30 years ago when, as a young DCE, “I was on the verge of burnout at the ripe ol’ age of 25.”
Jank founded RHRW in 2015, and the group has served 12,000 people at 215 ministries. The program being offered to LCMS districts in the wake of COVID-19 is titled “Catch Your Breath.” Based on Psalm 23 and conducted via a combination of online and in-person training, it aims to help participants “navigate seasons of crisis and recovery by creating a pace and plan that is God-honoring, transformative and sustainable.”
A participant in the LCMS Iowa District East’s “Catch Your Breath” program said that sometimes it can seem like a waste of time to add another event to an already demanding schedule. “This was not a waste of time,” the participant added, but “exactly what I needed.”
The LCMS North Wisconsin District (NWD) used the resiliency grant to help fund its 2020 professional church work conference. The conference theme, “Refuge and Strength,” was based on Psalm 46. DJ Schult, assistant to the NWD president, said the theme reminded workers of the promises of God, “which are greater than any pandemic or trial.”
Held online, the NWD conference included large-group and breakout sessions, along with opportunities for questions and answers. Presenters emphasized the importance of finding ways to build connections with others during stressful times. One participant, who noted that “compassion fatigue is where I am at,” felt encouraged “to seek and build a support system around me.” Another said, “I liked that we could have the time with our staff and that the topics were relatable to both teachers and pastors.”
There are still funds available to districts that would like to apply for a resiliency program grant. Manor said, “Our commissioned workers have been sacrificial in their service to the church both before and during the pandemic. Over the past year they have learned new skills in a very short amount of time, been creative in their teaching and program development, and poured out their gifts and talents for the sake of the saints, all while navigating the needs of their own families and the pandemic constraints.
“We pray that through these and other programs being developed, our workers will receive rest and rejuvenation in Christ Jesus to enable them to do the work the Lord puts before them. Thanks be to God for the districts’ and congregations’ care of their workers during the pandemic, and for the generosity of those who contributed to the Soldiers of the Cross—Amplified fund. The care that God’s people show for our commissioned workers is Christ’s love and mercy in action.”
For more information about resiliency program grants, contact Manor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Feb. 25, 2021