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Presbyterians Today article, panel explore pastoral isolation and burnout

A digital feature sparks the formation of an online panel, which will air on Leap Day

by Layton Williams Berkes | Presbyterian News Service

Earlier this month, Presbyterians Today released a feature article in digital form via the Presbyterians Today blog platform. The piece, written by journalist and OGA communications staff member Fred Tangeman, delves into the unique ways that isolation and loneliness contribute to burnout among Presbyterian clergy.

As the piece details, a 2021 PC(USA) report on minister wellbeing reports that 32% of pastors were either concerned or very concerned about isolation. With so much recent conversation about “the great resignation” of pastors leaving ministry, these statistics — and the stories behind them — warrant consideration.

Tangeman specifically highlights the challenges of three pastors working in Mission Presbytery, a geographically expansive presbytery in central Texas with many rural churches. Given its size, Mission Presbytery has long struggled with pastoral isolation, and the Covid pandemic only exacerbated the issue.

Presbyterians Today magazine has been on “sacred pause” since spring of 2023, as staff have worked to reimagine the publication for the current and future church. Part of the shift has been to make Presbyterians Today a collaborative project across the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which has published it historically, and the Office of the General Assembly. PMA and OGA are in the process of unifying into one agency.

In addition to relaunching the print magazine, plans for the future of Presbyterians Today include a much more robust digital publication with ongoing content publication, a dedicated website, and a commitment to audience engagement.

The Rev. Monica Thompson Smith

While the publication is not yet ready for a full re-launch, the above priorities toward collaboration, digital presence, and audience engagement have been key to process of developing and publishing this feature piece. To that end, in addition to the piece itself, Managing Editor Layton Williams Berkes will be hosting a live online panel discussion with Tangeman, the article’s author, and the three pastors featured: Monica Thompson Smith, Maria Vargas-Torres, and Jasiel Hernandez Garcia. The Presbyterians Today staff have produced a trailer about the upcoming panel which was shared on social media this week.

The Rev. Maria Vargas-Torres

The virtual discussion will be broadcast via the Presbyterians Today Facebook page at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, February 29. Williams Berkes hopes the conversation will go further into depth about the pastors’ own experiences, as well as tackling how congregations, mid councils, and the national denomination can support struggling pastors, and how the church can support anyone dealing with loneliness and isolation.

The Rev. Jasiel Hernandez Garcia

While it will take some time to develop the new dedicated Presbyterians Today website and officially relaunch the print production, Williams Berkes plans to publish several other feature pieces digitally over the course of this year and accompany them with multimedia storytelling and opportunities for readers to participate in conversation. The Presbyterians Today blog will also continue to publish blog posts from various authors that focus broadly on themes related to the feature pieces. Currently, the blog is publishing pieces on “community” and “connection.”

Follow the Presbyterians Today blog, e-newsletter, and the Presbyterians Today Facebook page to stay informed about new pieces, ongoing developments, and opportunities to engage.

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