Nicole Havelka Consulting Blog
in Change Leadership - Community - Self Care

Three Practices that Keep Me From Leaving Ministry

Rev. Nicole Havelka and nephew aiden on her ordination day - Oct. 31, 2004

In honor of my 15th Ordination Anniversary, I ask you to do two things — 1.) Do something today to take care of yourself; and 2.) Support the Yoga on High Foundation

Today is the 15th anniversary of my ordination into ministry in the United Church of Christ. Fifteen. Years. Wow. My nephew, now a sophomore in high school, was a 6-month-old dressed in his first Halloween costume. By that measure, my ministry is a questioning, sometimes unruly, yet often profound, teenager.

The last 15 years have at times been wonderful and rewarding, but also deeply challenging, sometimes overwhelming. This many years feels like I’ve earned the right to tell it like it is — I’ve thought about leaving ministry more times than I can count in those 15 years. Despite a sense of deep call to serving the communities and the world in the way of Jesus, the institution of church, and mainly its resistance to most kinds of organizational change, have exhausted and exasperated me. That resistance and the effects is has on someone like me — a natural challenger who tries to usher in change — has many times caused me to turn toward the outside door.

So, why do I continue to serve the church? Friends outside of the church have asked me this question many times over the years, as recent as last week. I have often said that it is because God calls me to it. That response is accurate, but not complete. I am able to continue doing what I am called to do because of practices that I’ve learned along the way that sustain me. I have learned how to take care of myself, how to rely on grounding spiritual practices and the help of others to put the pieces of myself and my ministry back together.

I offer three of them today:

Spiritual Practices. Anyone who reads my blog knows that yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices are my jam. The reality is that yoga practices, and the yoga communities of which I have been part, have kept me in Christian ministry over and over again. The practices are the way that I fill my cup, keep centered and grounded, even in chaos. Without them, I’m sure I would have left ministry long ago. This experience of being saved by these practices are why I want to share them as part of my ministry today.

Setting Boundaries. There is a myth in the church, and probably in all helping professions, that you should give and give to others without regard to its effects on you, your health or your friends and family. This notion is just plain wrong. The opposite is actually true — the more you set limits the more generous you actually become. I have learned to set boundaries — limiting the time I give, telling people when their negative behaviors are unacceptable, disciplining myself to always do spiritual practices and take time for Sabbath. That ability to say no, has allowed me to say even more yes. As Author, Researcher, Storyteller Brené Brown says — she is less “sweet” by setting boundaries, but infinitely more generous and loving.

Letting Go of Perfectionism. One of my first ministry jobs was as a chaplain at a residential treatment facility for young people with mental illness and behavioral disorders. I worked each week with groups of these young people to prepare and lead our chapel service. Those young people, full of energy and ideas for what worship could be, were not reliable. At all. Nearly every week, the ones who said they would hand out bulletins didn’t show up because they got a chance to go off campus as a reward. Or the group that was going to do a liturgical dance never rehearsed. Or the scripture reader got stage fright and decided not to read. Given the incredible instability in my weekly chapel leadership, I had to let go of the ideals of what worship should be and instead allow it to be what it was going to become. God showed up regardless of whether someone was there to hand out bulletins. God showed up in the halting voices of anxious scripture readers. God showed up in the dancers who miraculously pulled off their little-rehearsed choreography. God and those unstable and wonderful young people, gave me permission to cast aside the need to be perfect and instead allow a messy miracle to be born in front of our eyes each week.

Underlying all of these practices were the communities and mentors and collaborators and colleagues who nurtured me in these ways. They coached, cajoled and challenged me to learn new ways of being that felt deeply awkward in the beginning. No one does anything alone — especially not a calling as challenging as this one can be.

In honor of my 15th Ordination Anniversary, I ask you to do two things — 1.) Do something today to take care of yourself; and 2.) Support the Yoga on High Foundation — an organization started by the yoga studio at which I practice in Columbus, OH that strives to bring yoga and mindfulness to populations that need it most: traumatized persons, children and youth and patients in medical care. Give any amount you can, but perhaps a multiple of 15 to commemorate this years’ anniversary.

If you’ve read this to the end, you’re probably one of those people who have nurtured me in some way. For your friendship, your mentorship, your love, I am deeply grateful.

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