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From burnout to rejuvenation: How Kerith Retreats helped this pastoral couple discover rest

Nov 18, 2020

When Paul and Julie signed up for a Kerith Retreat in 2017, they were already on sabbatical from 20 years of ministry. Paul had a double role as lead pastor and executive pastor, and Julie helped lead worship along with supporting women’s and adoption ministry. They loved their ministry but were feeling the weight of service.

“We were tired, wondering if this was nearing the end of our tenure at the church. We had invested so much into the church that we had to refocus as a couple to help us as a family,” Paul recalls. “It had been a very tough season of ministry for us. I was experiencing burnout. I was experiencing some real fatigue in ministry. After you have been in one church so long, it can be really challenging.”

To begin their three-month sabbatical, they saw Kerith Retreats as a time to recharge. “As part of that sabbatical, I wanted to make sure that Julie and I could go away and regroup,” Paul says. “When we came to Kerith, we were looking for God to meet us there and have God fill us up because we were pretty empty – and get tools to help us maneuver through this and get filled up for ministry. Also, to stay together because sometimes ministry can pull people apart and we didn’t want that.”

When they arrived at the Kerith Creek retreat centre in Alberta, they were welcomed with loving arms. Their hosts, Merrie and Marshall, guided them through several exercises of spiritual rest.

“They had this ornamental trout on the table,” Julie recalls. “Even in a trout’s life as it is swimming upstream, it has to pull out and go into the calmer waters so it can then carry on into its journey. It showed how important it is to sometimes step away and take those times to refresh. Merrie challenged me – a busy mom of five kids and with ministry – in the importance of taking time to do those things that refresh my soul on a regular basis. For me it was huge to hear that blessing, that it’s okay to do that.”

For Paul, it was cathartic just to be heard. “I had to have someone who wasn’t invested in the church to be willing to listen and help me to talk through tough things,” he says. “I kept it all inside because, really, who do you talk to in the midst of a church? I needed to talk to someone outside the church as a soundboard, someone to ask the questions. We had confidence that God had us, and the ideas of sabbath and renewal were huge to us, but we didn’t do them well. [Marshall and Merrie] taught us a whole new paradigm to do that.”

Julie also felt it was vital to make the most of this much-needed break. They had other plans for travel and leisure during their time away from ministry, and they were able to enjoy it all the more because of Kerith. “For me, it was really important to start the sabbatical on the right path,” she says. “Our time at Kerith was such a time of blessing and refreshment and gaining perspective.”

Years after their retreat, they both feel stronger for having acknowledged their burnout. “It was the strength I gained from it,” Paul says. “The reminder that God doesn't just get us out of difficult circumstances. There are things we need to learn, and I could see God in the hard times. When we came back, it wasn’t ‘woe is me,’ but ‘God, how are we going to manage through this?’ I was better able to make better choices, not beating myself up, and realizing there is a season where you know you need to be done.”

This translated into a big change for the couple. “It was a couple years later we decided to be done with our tenure at the church,” Paul says. “It wasn’t perfect after Kerith, but we were better, our relationship was better, and our faith was better.”

Julie’s biggest takeaway? Not feeling guilty for resting. “What stuck with me is taking time [to be] refreshed. I have tried to be really purposeful in maintaining that, and I can tell when I am not. I am a trout swimming upstream and I need a break. Giving myself permission to say no to things has helped me as a pastor’s wife to let other women know it’s okay to step away and say no. As church leaders, we think we have to constantly be on the go in order to be approved, so I have been able to give that encouragement to other women so they can keep moving forward in whatever God has called them to do.”

While guests do pay to attend a Kerith Retreat, the costs are subsidized by generous donors – which has not gone unnoticed by the couple. “Sometimes we look at donations as just money, but it is an investment,” Paul says. “You have allowed an investment to happen into a couple. If that wasn’t around, I’m not so sure we would have finished well. I say huge thank you for investing in us because it is allowing us to now invest in others in a really healthier way. Not only does it impact us, but everyone we can then impact.”

“It really impacted our kids too,” Julie adds. “I got the book 24/6: A Prescription for a Happier, Healthier Life, and I came home and implemented it in our home. It had a radical impact on our kids and family. The donors who give to [make this possible], it is a ripple effect. It’s crazy how much it had a lasting impact on our kids and our ministry, and we were able to finish well at our other church. There is so much more richness to share in our new church.”

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