From a Bishop's Desk

A series of opinion articles and essays from bishop's of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and ecumenical partners.



Apr 14, 2020

Go to a place where you are appropriately socially distanced from others. Make sure no one with the virus has been there for the past three hours. Take off your mask.

Now, breathe.

Go ahead, do it again. Really fill your lungs. Feel your breath both rooting you and lifting you at the same time. Feel your ribs front and back expand with the inhale.

On your next breath, see if you can make the duration of the inhale, the pause in between and the duration of the exhale all the same. Do that a few times.

When was the last time you did that? When was the last time, in the midst of the demands of ministry and figuring it out all over again in these stressful times, you stopped to just take a healthy, fearless breath? To pause? To just be?

One of my fellow bishops whom I respect not only for this theological integrity but also his sharp wit sent a message to his pastors on Easter Sunday evening: Jesus already died for the Church. You don’t have to.

That’s funny and convicting all at the same time.  I had a similar way of putting that when I was in the parish. “Jesus has risen and I’m dead,” I’d say on Easter Sunday.  Holy Week and Easter Sunday have a way of exhausting us even in the best of times. And these are not the best of times. Certainly not the easiest.

So, breathe. Here we are, on the other side of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. I have been so thankful for your commitment and innovation, all motivated by your pastoral hearts, as you find new ways to share yourselves and the Gospel with your people.

But there’s a danger here. Every year for a few years now, Marianne and I took the week after Easter as vacation. We had planned to do the same this year but, since we can’t go anywhere, we decided to put it off.  So I’m working. It doesn’t feel so bad because I was not immersed in worship planning and presiding over the past week.

But what about you? I’m worried that, because it feels like we’re under-functioning (no meetings, no visits, no in-person worship, etc.) we have a tendency to compensate and over-function. How, sitting at home or alone in our offices, can we “validate” our existence and paycheck? Why, by working harder, of course!

But you’re already working harder, just on a normal day!

Again, breathe. Remember the first commandment: No other gods before God. That includes us. Don’t try to elbow God out with your busyness. Not from the lives of the people you serve and not from your own life. I encourage you as your bishop to just stop. (I would compel you but I don’t think I have that authority.  If you think I do, then I compel you!)

It’s the week after Easter. Give yourself a break. And if that makes you feel like a slacker, remember Jesus often went off by himself to rest with his Father and be renewed. Ministry is demanding! Take a nap in the afternoon. Turn off at least one method of communication for a day. Here’s a radical suggestion: Take two days off in a row! (For some of you, taking one day off is a radical suggestion.) What will you do? Do a puzzle. Work in the garden. Get an e-book or audiobook out of the library, your favorite kind. Take a really long walk. With your phone off! Or leave it home! Binge watch TV. Subscribe to a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu so you can find out why the heck everyone’s talking about “Tiger King.” You can always cancel it when this is over. Listen to a podcast, either the one you already subscribe to with the episodes stacking up or a new one. Exercise! There are lots of online resources for in-home fitness.  Write a letter. Take a nap. (Did I mention that already? Then take another one!) Explore a new spiritual discipline or renew a forgotten or neglected one. 


You get the idea. Maybe you can start a new habit of self-care in the midst of this crisis. Because, come on, do you really not have time? This situation, which I had hoped would be over in a matter of weeks, looks like something with which we will be dealing for a long time. In short, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And when we can get back, slowly, to more normal functioning, your people will need you. Taking care of yourself is taking care of them and that’s what you committed to in your ordination vows.

Besides, Jesus already died for the Church. You don’t have to.

Lay leaders, if you are reading this message (and I hope you are), I would say two things to you: First, feel free to take any of the above to heart for yourself. It works for any of us at any time. Secondly, in a spirit of mutual care and being the Body of Christ together, make sure your pastor and other leaders are taking care of themselves.  They really love you and want to be there for you. But these are times that put extra pressure on an already challenging calling. A gentle reminder, expressed in love, can make a huge difference. 

We are Easter people. We believe in a God of new life and resurrection. And we don’t have to be dead to experience that!

Sometimes we just have to stop. Calm down. Close our eyes.

And breathe.


Yours in the risen Christ,

Bishop Egensteiner