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‘I was quickly approaching burnout’

During sabbatical, New Worshiping Community leader realizes how out of balance he had become

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Nick Pickrell and partner Sarah Pickrell at a Poor People’s Campaign event in Jefferson City, Missouri. (Photo by Suzanne Corum-Rich)

LOUISVILLE — For seven years, Nick Pickrell, organizer of The Open Table in Kansas City, Missouri, has been hustling to keep the new worshiping community afloat. There was a lot of grant writing and developing — not to mention the community’s antiracism training business. Finally, this summer, Pickrell was able to take a break, thanks to Sabbath & Sabbatical Grants from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement.

Curious about his experience, Presbyterian New Service asked Pickrell these questions. His responses have been edited slightly for brevity.

What was your sabbath like?
My sabbatical experience was a lifesaver for me.  I don’t think I realized how much I needed this break. It was a breath of fresh air to have three months to allow for space, silence and refreshment.

What did your sabbath experience stir up in you?
Over the course of three months, I was able to see how I needed to detach from The Open Table so I could re-engage from a healthier place. I also realized how much things like playing music, hiking and exercise gave me life. Because of the demands of The Open Table, I had let all of those things go. I see now that wasn’t a healthy move for me to have made.

Did it change you in any way? If so, how?

In the months since I’ve been back, I’ve been able to allow for things at The Open Table to slip through the cracks or fail without me swooping in to save it. It has freed me from a tremendous amount of pressure I felt before the sabbatical. Also, I have been able stay in a place where attachments and expectations have been released. I have been able to articulate that I am both committed to The Open Table while also holding the community with an open hand. As The Open Table shifts in our mission, if I am not the right person to help lead the community, then I feel OK with stepping down. Likewise, if the community ever feels like it is time for The Open Table to close (we aren’t), I feel OK with letting The Open Table close. To borrow some terminology from the Catholic Worker movement, The Open Table is meant to be an organism, not an organization. When the Spirit makes it abundantly clear that our work at The Open Table is done, we want to honor that instead of existing in perpetuity.

 How will that shift in you (if any) be beneficial to you and to those you serve in ministry?

I think the shift of detaching will greatly benefit both me and the community because it relieves the stress that has resided in my body the last seven years. This shift moves me to a place where I realize that “I am a worker, not a master builder,” as it says in one of my favorite prayers, “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own.”

Nick Pickrell (Screenshot)

Additionally, I got the chance to meet with leaders from around the country who have  been working to decolonize their church culture, policies, and practices, and some of the things discussed have already started to take root in our community as we vision collectively and act collectively.

 Why would you recommend a sabbath experience to others in ministry?

I would recommend this sabbath experience as it is so beneficial for our longevity in this work. I know in my case at seven years I had been quickly approaching burnout, and this sabbatical could not have come at a better time. I feel like I have developed some new habits, shed some old ones, and am able to re-engage in a more sustainable way. This would not have happened if it wasn’t for the sabbatical.

 Increasingly, The Open Table is living into being a place of healing primarily for the Black community, but also a place of healing for everyone. Pickrell is open to the Holy Spirit’s leading, including being willing to step aside if his racial identity prevents The Open Table from fully realizing its mission of being a community of liberation and healing. 


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