‘Pastors are the unsung heroes helping people get through the pandemic’

A pastor and worshiping community leader who’s ‘frayed at the edges’ looks forward to a sabbatical next spring

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Sue Pizor Yoder

LOUISVILLE — Thanks to Sabbath and Sabbatical Grants from 1001 New Worshiping Communities, 35 leaders in the new church movement began taking sabbaticals earlier this summer. The response to these grants — all available grants were awarded — has been tremendous.

The Rev. Sue Pizor Yoder, who is providing pulpit supply for United Presbyterian Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and is leader of Blank Slate, a new worshiping community  in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, received one of the last grants — and plans to take a six-week sabbatical next spring.

Pizor Yoder has been with United Presbyterian Church since the pandemic began, working with a transformation team to determine options for their future. In addition to her pastoral duties at the 100-person Blank Slate, she’s been working on a grant from Louisville Institute on how Millennials and the Internet Generation (the 74 million Americans born between 1995 and 2012) are making meaning and what the implications are for mainline churches.

Community members of Blank Slate, along with the Rev. Sue Pizor Yoder and her brother, participated in a CROP walk during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)

Pizor Yoder has a lot on her plate. As the pandemic continues, she said she finds herself frayed at the edges. “Pastors are the unsung heroes helping people get through the pandemic,” she said. “We’ve been with death that can’t be expressed at funerals, weddings postponed and a lack of in-person worship.”

Curious about what she is most looking forward to during her sabbatical experience, Presbyterian News Service asked Pizor Yoder six questions. Her responses have been lightly edited for brevity.


PNS: What will a six-week sabbatical look like in 2022? 

Pizor Yoder: I have grown adult children in in Florida, California and York, Pennsylvania. I’m planning on spending a week with each of them, hiking and walking along the ocean. I’m going to spend some time in silence — and, if possible, return to my hometown and family of origin in Butler, Pennsylvania. My dad died right at the beginning of the pandemic and my younger brother who has Down syndrome lives with us and really misses his home roots. I’m looking forward to enjoying some reading and reestablishing good care of my body. I want to reconnect with my prayer life and with God. And I need to spend some time grieving. I’ve lost some significant people in my life but kept going since the pandemic began.

How do you expect to get stirred up?

I anticipate some healing around some of that grief. Also, I’m in the process of rethinking my theology. I want to articulate it more clearly with those where churchy language doesn’t work. Blank Slate is thinking of opening a spirituality center where we can communicate with non-churched people. I’m not planning on working, but part of my time away is to get my mind clear so that I have space to do creative work, where what’s really important can come to the surface.

Did you expect your time away to change you? If so, how?

I do. When you put things into perspective by getting off the treadmill, you learn again how to prioritize, what to let go of and how to move forward. I’ve been working several jobs, so to get a break will give me perspective in my mind. It will also put me in touch with the Spirit who will give me a sense of peace of where to put my energy.

How will your sabbatical be beneficial to those you serve in ministry?

Whenever life is balanced with God, people and myself, time flies. Things and life are good because you know where God is leading and you have some idea of how to get there. When you get out of balance, you’re not taking care of yourself because you’re too busy taking care of everybody else. COVID has had a way of upsetting ministry for me. One of the things I told a person is that I grieve for what I stood for in ministry. The pandemic and political situation turned it upside down. I realize how the script that was taught to us wasn’t an honest script.

The Rev. Sue Pizor Yoder visited with this retirement community resident after singling Christmas carols. (Contributed photo)

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

Because we need balance in our lives if we are to serve God with creativity, love and imagination. When I called my kids to let them know that I had received this sabbatical grant, they were so excited. We haven’t been able to see each other because of ministry demands during the pandemic — which has been really hard.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

Pastors are burning out, so kudos to the denomination for offering these Sabbath and Sabbatical Grants.  I’ve always had mentors who care enough about me to say, ‘you’re a high energy person, pastoring is a long race — and we want you in for the journey.’ So, I’ve been pretty intentional about sabbath, because people called me to this rhythm of rest and restore, so that I had energy for my family, the church and my spouse.  I worked hard to keep that rhythm, but COVID screwed it all up. It took everything we knew and turned it upside down.

So, I am a huge braggart of our denomination for supporting leaders in the 1001 New Worshiping Community movement. In 38 years of ministry this is the first sabbatical I’ve been given where you’re not expected to go do research to benefit the church.

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