By Rev. Stephanie Smith
Every pastor needs an opportunity to find rest and renewal to cope with the stress and strain of ministry. For several South Georgia United Methodist pastors, Green Bough House of Prayer, an ecumenical retreat center tucked away in the heart of Georgia, offers them space to find it.
According to new Barna research, two in five pastors (41%) say they’ve considered quitting full-time ministry in the last 12 months. In 2015, 72% of pastors said they felt “very satisfied” with their job as pastors. In late 2022, just 52% of pastors were “very satisfied with their jobs.” Barna has continued to report on this sharp increase in pastoral burnout, and it confirms the growing number of pastors who are considering resignation.
One of the underlying reasons this percentage is so high is the “immense stress of the job.” While stress and the varying demands of ministry seem to be continuous, the words of Christ found in Matthew 11:28-30 call loud and clear, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
It is the act of coming or leaving behind the stress and entering into the holy presence of God that draws both clergy and laity alike to a renewal retreat like Green Bough House of Prayer in Adrien, Ga.
For 22 years, Rev. Teresa Edwards, associate pastor at Vineville United Methodist Church in Macon, Ga., has found her way to Green Bough House of Prayer again and again.
“Walking around the field on my first visit, I knew God had brought me to a sacred place of rest, renewal, and deep prayer,” said Rev. Edwards. “When I pull in to park my car, my breathing slows. The pace of prayer invites me to slow down, listen, and notice all the little moments. The grounds, the rooms, the chapel, and the dinner table all glimmer with grace for me.
“What I have learned over the years is that place matters. Green Bough is my spiritual home and place of deep, holy rest,” said Rev. Edwards.
Green Bough House of Prayer offers space for individual reflection and also offers guided retreats and conversations that bring about a time of renewal through spiritual direction.
The Rev. Dr. Scott Hagan, Coastal and Northeast District Superintendent, began visiting Green Bough to spend time with Rev. Steve Bullington, a South Georgia clergy and one of the spiritual directors at Green Bough House of Prayer.
“Going to Green Bough remains so good for my soul,” said Dr. Hagan. “I have come to appreciate the additional blessing of spending time with others who travel there for similar times of retreat. Over meals and conversations, I have met laypersons and clergy from across the state and region. Each encounter reminds me that I am not alone in responding to the call of God to submit to the rhythm of renewal."
The rhythm of renewal can certainly help transform the pace of everyday life. For the Rev. Ted Goshorn, senior pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, transformation happens in stillness.
“Life moves quickly, and I naturally keep an even faster pace,” said Dr. Goshorn. “In doing so, I run the risk of outrunning God.”
Thankfully, Green Bough has taught him the importance of stillness in staying grounded in God.
“At Green Bough, I pause life and enter into the shared, quiet, peaceful rhythms of life that Fay, Steve, and Oliver (spiritual directors at Green Bough) carefully cultivate,” said Dr. Goshorn. “I am renewed and prepared to give in ministry from the overflow of what God is doing in my life. Transformation happens in stillness, and Green Bough fosters my own practice of stillness.”
As pastors seek to find rest and renewal, sacred spaces like Green Bough have a twofold calling, according to Rev. Bullington: to live a life of prayer in the world and to provide a place for people to come for prayer and renewal.
“For people to find renewal at Green Bough, they have to be ready to come, to be open to God, and hungry for God’s presence,” said Rev. Bullington. “Green Bough is where they can step into that space of rhythm and prayer, allowing God to work in simplicity.”
If you would like to know more about Green Bough House of Prayer or more about spiritual direction and rest, contact Rev. Steve Bullington.
Rev. Stephanie Smith is the associate pastor at Pittman Park UMC in Statesboro and is working with district and conference communications.