About two years ago, when coronavirus cases began to peak in her impoverished neighborhood of San Antonio, Reverend Norma Fuentes-Quintero found herself taking on an additional task: helping worshipers cope with anxiety. .
The pastor, who leads the largely Latino El Templo Cristiano Assembly of God, spent hours with one worshiper in particular – a woman with seven children – who was consumed with fear that the virus would kill her and leave her behind. her motherless children.
“Each phone call with her was 30 minutes to an hour long,” Fuentes-Quintero said. “Some days she knocked on my door. I gave her water, massaged her head and rubbed her arm until she fell asleep. It has become personal.
Fuentes-Quintero’s situation is common in communities of color where lack of resources, poor access to health care and stifling stigma of mental health issues have turned pastors into counselors and caregivers. These are also communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
In addition to the pandemic, difficult conversations about anti-Asian hatred and systemic racism after the Atlanta spa shootings and the murder of George Floyd have dramatically increased stress levels in these communities. Faith leaders say they are overwhelmed, exhausted, exhausted and have serious questions about how to take care of their own physical and mental well-being while helping the faithful in a meaningful way.
Such self-care isn’t that simple, especially in some cultures where pastors are expected to be always physically and spiritually present, said Reverend Pausa Kaio Thompson, senior pastor of Dominguez Samoan Congregational Christian Church in Compton, California. .
In his state, Pacific Islanders have died at a higher rate from COVID-19 than any other racial group, and pastors like Thompson on some days held two or three funerals — sometimes, for members of the same family.
In Pacific island communities, pastoralists serve a variety of needs, from food, health care and employment to housing and immigration, he said. The pandemic was a unique situation because the source of everyone’s grief — whether you were in the pulpit or the pews — was the same.
“How can I speak about my own mental instability and self-doubt at a time when I can’t pass that on to someone I’m there to nurture and comfort?” said Thompson.
He decided to see a psychiatrist and take as much time as possible to relax. A third-generation pastor, Thompson said vestiges of colonialism still haunt the clergy of the Pacific Islander community. The missionaries, when they arrived on the islands, led the locals into dangerous terrain, teaching them “to give their all and die for the faith”, he said.
“We still live by that theology and it really hurts us,” Thompson said. “We need a new way forward.”
It is important to remember that “clergy are human beings,” said Bishop Vashti McKenzie, acting president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches and retired African Methodist Episcopal leader.
“When you add racial unrest on top of burying more worshipers than you’ve ever had in your entire ministry,” on top of losing loved ones in your own family, it can all add up, said McKenzie.
The challenges facing clergy of color were on display recently at a virtual event hosted by the Christian organization Live Free, two days after a supermarket mass shooting in which 10 black people were killed in Buffalo, New York.
The Reverend Julian Cook, pastor of the Buffalo Missionary Baptist Church in Macedonia, described a fellow clergyman who was unable to respond to a request for bereavement counseling from local bank employees.
“She had to tell them emphatically, ‘I’m just not in a place where I can even talk about heartbreak right now,'” he said during the online event.
The strain of having discussions about race and racism has led to burnout for Pastor Juliet Liu, who co-directs Life on the Vine, a Christian congregation in Long Grove, Illinois. She is preparing to start a six-month sabbatical in July. Liu said she was unsure about returning to the ministry.
“For me, it’s not just the pandemic, but also the conversations about race and anti-Asian hatred,” said Liu, who is of Taiwanese and Vietnamese descent. His congregation is predominantly white and about 20% Asian American.
Liu said she started seeing a therapist three years ago. It’s helped her realize that she can’t hold herself accountable for “how white people understand and respond to racial justice,” she said.
Yet she feels disillusioned when some white worshipers question the existence of systemic racism.
“I wonder if I’m in the right place,” Liu said. “I question my vocation.”
Many pastors have found comfort during this time knowing they are not alone, said Jessica Smedley, a Washington DC-based psychologist who has seen an increase in requests for help from black clergy and African-American congregations. Americans. She has hosted virtual webinars as a form of support.
“It gave them the opportunity to hear from other clergy that they were experiencing some of the same heartaches or stressors of not being in person or not knowing how to present themselves for their congregants in the same way. and not being able to visit the hospital because of security issues,” she said.
A recent Rice University study found that black and Latino congregants often rely on their pastors for mental health care, but their clergy feel limited in their ability to help them. Smedley said more research is needed on clergy of color and rates of depression.
Reverend Danté Quick has made black mental health an area of focus at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey. The senior pastor has also addressed his own mental health needs and is advising his congregants and seminarians to do the same.
“If you’re going to see a cardiologist for your heart, an optometrist for your eye, an oncologist for your cancer, why don’t you go see a doctor for your mind?” he says, noting that he’s been seeing a therapist for 20 years.
Quick said black clergy faced various stressors. But advocating for social justice “brings its own stress,” he said.
“Preaching about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the (psychological) trauma that we have to try to put people of color through requires intense empathy that carries on the mind.”
Quick says he gets by by making time for “joy-seeking” activities — like a nice restaurant meal, an Anita Baker concert, or joining his mom to watch his favorite TV show. He also now has a home phone and a church phone “so I can put one in once in a while.”
“I want to live to see my children’s weddings,” he said.
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