A year ago, in the June Record, I shared about the 2014 Encouragement Road Trip I took through Western Canada. Because the trip was so well received and because the support of individuals and churches exceeded the expenses by a good margin, I floated the idea of a trip east this year. The response was immediate and positive. Within weeks all the finances were in place as well as a good start in requests for meetings and meet-ups along the way.
As I write this, I am halfway through the 2015 Encouragement Road Trip. What a privilege and honour to be able to minister in this way. Already I have experienced great hospitality, quite varied ministry and extensive opportunities to speak words of encouragement to ministers, their families and their congregations.
Much of it seems like a blur as I have visited in six provinces in the past 11 days. However, there is a recurring theme that is consistent with my experience everywhere in the denomination. There is a pattern of isolation, discouragement, anxiety and evidence of burnout coming from many of our ministers. My prayer is that the words of encouragement I bring and the opportunity for them to unload their hearts in a personal and confidential way helps in some measure to ease their burdens.
But I discovered something unexpected this trip. The Presbytery of P.E.I. has taken a most positive step in dealing with these issues. With support of the synod, who had encouraged presbytery projects with unused synod staff funds, they have implemented a part-time leadership pastor position. The intention is to provide much needed ministry to the ministers.
Since November 2014, Rev. Andrew Hutchinson, a local retired minister, has filled this role. He reports a significant number of ministers are taking advantage of his availability. He attributes this to his neutral role in presbytery, the uncompromising confidentiality he promises and the palpable hunger for collegial connection.
Andrew reports that he is pleased with the progress to date and presbytery has also expressed confidence and approval of the program so far. His vision is to be a catalyst to create much more significant collegial interaction between presbytery members. While this will take consistent effort and initiative, Andrew sees the benefits far outweighing the investment.
When I asked if he recommended this approach for others he was unqualified in his response. So, I hope and pray that sharing this with my readers will spark some ideas and actions in other synods and presbyteries. I would certainly offer our resources to help coordinate an event to share needs and approaches so that others can benefit from what has already been learned.
And as I have said before, please remember to pray for all our ministers and leaders.