8th Sunday after Pentecost — July 18, 2021

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Pentecost 8B; Proper 11

“Anyone else experiencing ‘The Great Resignation’ in your church?”

Teri McDowell Ott’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

I read this question and the flood of responses in the PC(USA) Leaders Facebook group. The Great Resignation refers to the surge in people leaving their jobs post-pandemic, a trend predicted by Anthony Klotz, a Texas A&M University professor of management. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a record 4 million people quit their jobs during the month of April this year.

“In normal times,” writes Andrea Hsu for NPR, “people quitting jobs in large numbers signals a healthy economy with plentiful jobs. But these are not normal times. The pandemic led to the worst U.S. recession in history, and millions of people are still out of jobs.” The Great Resignation might also be called the Great Reassessment, as the pandemic led people to consider when, how and for whom they wanted to work. Also, according to the anecdotal evidence of my social media feeds, people are just plain burned out.

In church circles, our Great Resignation refers to deacons and elders resigning after a tumultuous and exhausting year of service, and pastors leaving not just their current call, but ministry altogether. This pandemic year has not only burned them out, but disillusioned them to ministry: the constant on-call status, the passive-aggressive parishioner, the critical crank, the negotiation of polarized “purple” communities, the pressure to perform, the hectic yet sobering schedule of conducting funeral after funeral while planning both virtual and in-person worship. Exhausted pastors often feel like they’re not serving anyone well, including themselves.

In this week’s lectionary passage from Mark, Jesus shows his disciples, weary from all the ministry they had been doing in and around Galilee, that he gets it: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Are there any words in all of Scripture more welcome to weary disciples? You mean we get to take a break? We get to go away and not talk to anyone? We get to be alone, take naps, read a book just for fun? Maybe this is just my introvert’s idea of paradise. Maybe your idea of rest is a packed dance party, or a crowded concert where you can let loose and just be yourself. But the point is the same: Jesus gives us permission to take care of ourselves.

Jesus’ message isn’t just for disciples or ministry leaders, but for all those who need a break but feel obligated not to take one: owners of small businesses, teachers, doctors and nurses, parents of small children — those little, needy ones who know no “deserted place” boundaries. They’ll follow you to the toilet. We probably all struggle with leaving our responsibilities behind. Guilt plagues parents desperate for alone time. Busy professionals fear falling behind and never being able to catch back up. And what if we step away and realize we’re not as needed as we thought we were? What, then, will fill our need for purpose?

Unfortunately, like many well-laid vacation plans, the disciples’ deserted place doesn’t stay deserted for long. Needy people uncover Jesus’ plan and his secret hideout. They hurry after him on foot, so fast they beat Jesus to his own getaway. Nowadays, the needy don’t have to hustle. The cellphone rings. The text messages buzz. Human need is great — so great that the people cannot handle it by themselves, even just for a little while. They are like sheep without a shepherd.

In this passage, it’s important to recognize that Jesus has compassion for us all. He acknowledges the disciples’ need for a break, while also acknowledging the people’s need for healing and teaching. In between the lectionary passages for this Sunday, we read how all were fed – shepherds and sheep – with fives loaves and two fish.

None of us is Jesus. All of us need to be fed. Being honest about our need and being gentle and compassionate with one another during these extraordinary and exhausting times are essential for us to continue in our work. This pandemic has left many of us reeling. It’s okay to say we are not okay. In fact, it’s necessary if we are to find our way to healing.

Questions for reflection:

  • What feelings stir within you as you read this passage?
  • Who could use Jesus’ permission to take care of themselves? How can you, or your church, help them take some needed rest?
  • What have you reassessed during this pandemic year? What positive changes can you or the church make as a result of this reassessment?

Want to receive Looking into the lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays?