Burn out is real. Especially among church workers.
Thankfully, the joy of embracing her vocation while at the same time looking after her spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health keeps Emily Woock, director of parish music at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Elmhurst, Ill., from experiencing burn out. It also helps to have a supportive congregation that cares for its church workers.
“I have a couple parishioners who periodically jokingly ask if I just sleep in my office,” said Woock. “All this said, I am blessed to work in a parish where many people do see and appreciate the time and effort that goes into the music ministry.”
Of course, most church workers will admit that it isn’t always the congregation’s fault when a church worker feels stretched too thin. Many church workers, including Woock, just genuinely love their work and are so invested in it that when they finally take a break, it’s often long overdue.
How Woock unwinds
“I’m a workaholic and always brainstorming and checking emails and thinking about parishioners, so even on my one ‘day off’ a week, I rarely take it totally off,” admitted Woock. Every couple of months she tries to visit one of her best friends who is Amish to unplug and recharge.
Woock also tries to visit Europe every summer to play historic organs, unwind from a year of ministry and get ready for the next. According to Woock, “It’s totally worth scrimping and saving all year to make these trips happen! I never take travel for granted and am deeply grateful for the opportunity. I do a lot of praying and thinking while I play.” She always returns to the U.S. having learned something about herself and feeling like she can handle anything life throws at her.
On those days when the candle is burning on both ends, however, Woock wisely reaches out to those she trusts, even for a quick phone chat.
Faithful to her vocation
“Sometimes I need an outside perspective if I’m too emotionally invested in a situation,” she explained. “Sometimes I need a safe place to vent because, yes, church workers get frustrated at times. Sometimes I need to talk through a situation out loud in order to be objective in problem-solving. Sometimes I need someone who will simply rejoice with me over something wonderful or encourage me when life gets overwhelming. Sometimes I need people who know me well enough to be brutally honest and tell me to just quit being ridiculous and to stop worrying so much.”
Even amid the worry and overwhelm that can sometimes creep into the life of a church worker, the joy in this special vocation is never out of reach. For Woock in particular, remaining faithful to her vocation is simply a response to the great faithfulness that Christ shows to His people.
“First and foremost, being faithful to my vocation means I am called to love the people I serve,” she said. “Often this happens through music, but not always. It means that I take seriously the responsibility to educate children in music and the hymns and liturgy of the church so they can more actively participate in the Divine Service for the rest of their lives. It means being mindful of God’s great gift of music and not limiting its use to within the walls of the church.”
Lutheran faith informs everything
Woock’s dedication to her vocation and to the church that she serves is not only a wonderful gift to the church-at-large, but also serves as an example to the next generation of how Lutheran Christians should live out their lives in service to God and neighbor. Of course, Woock confesses that it isn’t just that next generation that is impacted – they in turn teach her and the rest of the church what it means to find joy in God’s gifts and in the work and treasure we’ve been given.
“The people keep me going,” Woock said.
“Especially the kids. They are so quick and joyful in their acceptance of God’s gifts, they believe God’s promises so easily and fully and often are very insightful in their observations. They’re full of joy and energy and not afraid to tackle a challenge head on.”
Like other LCMS church workers, Woock simply adores her vocation because she herself is loved by God and called by Him to serve her neighbor where she is, with her particular gifts.
“My Lutheran faith informs everything I do,” added Woock. “I know that every person is a person created and loved by God. I do my best to treat them as such. I don’t always succeed, but I try. At the end of the day, I am first called to love God and my neighbors, and secondly, I’m called to lead the song of the church and use music to catechize and spread the Gospel through song. What could be better?”