For some pastors the past year was too much to bear

For some pastors, the past year was too much to bear

File- In this April 11, 2017 file photo, the sun sets on a Baptist church in Georgia. The last eighteen months or so have been difficult for pastors. Already stretched with the day-to-day concerns of running a congregation at a time when organized religion is on the decline, theyve increasingly found that the divides facing the nation have made their way inside the walls of the church. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

File- In this April 11, 2017 file photo, the sun sets on a Baptist church in Georgia. The last eighteen months or so have been difficult for pastors. Already stretched with the day-to-day concerns of running a congregation at a time when organized religion is on the decline, theyve increasingly found that the divides facing the nation have made their way inside the walls of the church. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(RNS) Jeff Weddle, a 46-year-old, wise-cracking, self-deprecating, Bible-loving, self-described failing pastor from Wisconsin, was already thinking of leaving the ministry before COVID and the 2020 election.

He was, as he put it, fed up with church life after two decades as a pastor.

Then, what he called the stupid feuds about politics and the pandemic put him over the edge. People at church seemed more concerned about the latest social media dustup and online conspiracy theories one church member called him the antichrist for his views on COVID than in learning about the Bible.

Sunday mornings had become filled with dread over what could go wrong next.

He eventually decided, I dont need this anymore. Weddle stepped down as pastor, walked out the door and hasnt looked back.

The last eighteen months or so have been difficult for pastors like Weddle. Already stretched with the day-to-day concerns of running a congregation at a time when organized religion is on the decline, theyve increasingly found that the divides facing the nation have made their way inside the walls of the church.

This content is written and produced by Religion News Service and distributed by The Associated Press. RNS and AP partner on some religion news content. RNS is solely responsible for this story.

Clergy also felt a sense of isolation, cut off from contact with their congregations and unable to do the kind of in-person ministry that drew them to the pastorate. Instead of preaching and visiting the sick, they had to become video producers and online content creators.

Chuck DeGroat, professor of counseling and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, said pastors have long had to mediate disputes over theology or church practice, like the role of women in the church or the so-called worship wars of recent decades. They now face added stresses from the pandemic and polarization, with people willing to leave their churches over mask policies or discussions of race.

Im hearing from pastors that they just dont know what to do, he said.

A recent survey of Protestant pastors by the research firm Barna Group found that 29% said they had given real, serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna, said the past year has been a crucible for pastors. Churches have become fragmented by political and social divides. They have also become frayed, as peoples connectedness to local congregations is waning.

The pandemic was a great revealer of the challenges churches face, said Kinnaman.

The Rev. Kerri Parker, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, whose member organizations include about 2,000 churches and a million Christians, has been concerned about the stresses clergy have been under since 2020.

Last summer, the council surveyed clergy and found about a quarter said they were considering retiring or leaving the pastorate due to the stresses of ministry during COVID.

In a recent follow-up survey, said Parker, about a third of respondents said they were considering their options or thinking about leaving.

Parker said that unlike past crises, like floods, tornadoes or other disasters, pastors wont be able to escape the fallout from COVID-19 once the pandemic is over. If theres a flood, she said, a pastor could stay at their church, help them clean up and rebuild and then at some point move to another church that hadnt been through that disaster.

So where do you go? she said. Out of the church.

For Brandon Cox, serving as a pastor had been a joy until last year.

In 2011, Cox and his wife, Angie, had started a new church in Bentonville, Arkansas, called Grace Hills. Cox described Grace Hills as a Celebrate Recovery-style congregation, inspired by the support group ministry founded at Saddleback Church in Southern California, where Cox had once worked.

Up until 2020, we had a fantastic time, Cox, 46, told Religion News Service in a phone interview.

The trifecta of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 election and the racial reckoning in response to the death of George Floyd hit like a wrecking ball.

Grace Hills shut down in-person worship at the beginning of the pandemic, which prompted people to leave. More left when the church reopened and required masks. When Cox and a Black pastor preached a Sunday sermon together after Floyds death and said that yes, Black lives matter, that caused more turmoil. No matter what Cox did, someone was angry.

It was sort of relentless, said Cox, whostepped downas pastor at Grace Hill at the end of April. My wife and I just found ourselves in the place of exhaustion.

Cox talked to RNS nine days after his last Sunday as a pastor and said he hasnt given up on Christianity he hopes to find a new church to attend in the coming months but pastoral ministry is no longer for him.

Leaving the ministry has challenges. After 24 years in vocational ministry, Cox felt he didnt have many career options. For now, he plans to work for a local real estate company.

I kept telling people, Youd be amazed how many jobs youre not qualified for, said Cox.

Even before COVID, the demands of the job wore on many clergy.

The Rev. Emily Reeves Grammer served as pastor of several United Methodist congregations in the Nashville area for a decade before leaving the pastorate in 2019. Grammer, who has two children, said balancing the demands of ministry and family life proved daunting.

Grammer, who is 36, said she loved being a pastor. But she worried about the long-term sustainability of her calling to be a pastor, given that the United Methodist Church seems headed for a schism.

I am really concerned about the ability of a lot of United Methodist churches to keep supporting full-time clergy people, she said.

While thinking about the future, she talked with older pastors who felt it was too late for them to change careers. The advice she got was this: If you are going to leave, do it now. So she resigned from her church and went back to school to become an English teacher.

What I love most about being a pastor is gathering people together around a text and making meaning together out of that text, she said. Teaching literature, she said, will allow her to do the same thing.

Charlie Cotherman, pastor of Oil City Vineyard Church in rural Pennsylvania, said that, in his part of the world, pastors who had strong denominational ties and relationships to draw on may have weathered the pandemic better than pastors who were on their own.

Cotherman, who directs the Rural Ministry Project at Grove City College, said most of the pastors he works with have done pretty well during the pandemic. Some had the advantage of being in small communities with low COVID infection rates, so they were able to return to in-person services quickly.

Still, he said, COVID has taken a toll. In some churches, members, especially families, left when services went online and just havent come back.

Some of these small churches in rural areas have a couple of young families, he said. For them to lose even one of them has been a really tough thing.

Before he left the ministry, Weddle begana blogat , detailing some of his concerns about the ministry. Weddle said he gave the ministry his best for 21 years. But being a pastor proved an almost impossible task.

Ultimately, you want people to grow in Christ to be caring, making sense of the Bible and applying it to their life, he said. And, you know, for thousands of years its been very difficult to get people to do that. So, the job is inherently frustrating.

Leaving the ministry has been a relief.

Ive been going to church, he wrote recently. I dont have to do anything at a church for the first time in 21 years. I dont have to worry about who isnt there, or why, or who will be mad next. I dont have to have regrets all afternoon and evening about how I messed up my sermon.

Lumber prices skyrocket over past year primarily due to COVID with help from a beetle

Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lumber prices skyrocket over past year, primarily due to COVID with help from a beetle

Lumber prices skyrocket over past year, primarily due to COVID with help from a beetle

Lumber prices have skyrocketed over the past year, due to scarcity caused by tariffs and a Canadian beetle infestation, but the higher prices arent necessarily being passed on to timber producers. In the U.S., lumber costs 180 percent more right now than it did in April 2020, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The Federal Reserve Board says its the sharpest rise since 1946, when the post-World War II housing boom kicked in, David Brooks reports for the Concord Monitor.

The increase has in turn raised the cost of building the average single-family home by almost $24,000, and nearly 81,000 new homes across the U.S. are awaiting construction partly because of the cost of materials. Samanth Subramanianreports for Quartz.

Early in 2020, sawmills first ground to a halt, anticipating a crash in demand. Then it turned out that people still wanted woodto repair or renovate their homes during lockdown, or to build new homes outside cities, Subramanian reports. Interest rates were, and continue to be, low; it was a good time to finance and construct new houses. So the sawmills started up again around July. But many mills had to shut down after employees were exposed to or sickened by the coronavirus, which in turn slowed lumber output and caused shortages.

The high prices have been a boon for lumber mills, although the pandemic has complicated their ability to take advantage, Brooks reports. But issues from the global supply chain to manpower limits to tree-species distribution means the benefit so far has been spotty at best, especially for landowners, at least in New England.

Part of the problem is that New Hampshire, and many parts of New England, are home to hardwood trees like cedar. The construction industry uses mostly fast-growing softwoods like pine, including pressure-treated softwoods that can resist rot. With pine in short supply, builders turned to cedar, but cedar mills are running at top capacity and it can take a year and a half to add significant processing capacity, according to industry consultant Eric Kinglsey. Many mill owners are hesitant to add such capacity, he told Brooks, because it may not pay off if the current boom fizzles out too quickly.

Canadian lumber once provided a pressure-relief valve, with the pine forests of British Columbia providing 15% to 17% of the lumber for U.S. markets. These days its more like 10% or less, due to the mountain pine beetle. Cold winters once kept its population in check, but a warming climate allowed it tolive longer and reproduce more quicklystarting in the late 1990s, and the insect has destroyed hundreds of millions of acres of forest in British Columbia, Subramanian reports.

That capacity will take decades to rebuild, and the softwood tariff on Canada, which President Trump imposed in 2017, doesnt help matters, says the Wall Street Journal editorial board: The Commerce Department cut the levy to 9% from 20% in December. But as long as the orders are in place, this lower ratewhat importers are mandated to pay in dutyis merely a cash deposit for what is due next year. Lumber buyers know Commerce can make a new finding of a higher duty, which would apply retroactively on Canadian lumber they have already imported. This backward-looking assignment of duties introduces enormous uncertainty, creating an incentive to rely on domestic supply.

In the meantime, the U.S. must find more wood somewhere.

One option is to import more lumber, particularly from Europe, which has stock in surplus, Subramanian reports. Over the past five years, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic have had to harvest nearly 250 million cubic meters of spruce damaged by another bark beetle infestation, this too brought on by the warming climate. Ironically, if one beetle has depressed wood supplies to the US, another may yet elevate it.

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Gun Sales Rise In Past Year Especially Among Women And African Americans

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Gun Sales Rise In Past Year, Especially Among Women And African Americans

Uncertainty and unrest during the last year have lead millions of Americans to buy guns for the first time. NPRs Scott Simon speaks to one of them, Ermiya Fanaeian of Salt Lake City.

Gun Sales Rise In Past Year, Especially Among Women And African Americans

Gun Sales Rise In Past Year, Especially Among Women And African Americans

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Uncertainty and unrest during the last year have lead millions of Americans to buy guns for the first time. NPRs Scott Simon speaks to one of them, Ermiya Fanaeian of Salt Lake City.

Ermiya Fanaeian may shake up a lot of stereotypes, perhaps even your own. She co-founded the Utah chapter of the gun violence prevention group March for Our Lives and considers herself a left-wing social activist. Shes also recently bought an AR-15, making her one of the more than 8 million Americans whove bought their first gun last year. Now, that figure comes from a firearms trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It also reports that women and African Americans have been buying guns at an unprecedented rate. Ermiya Fanaeian is now the director of the Salt Lake City chapter of Pink Pistols – thats an LGBTQ gun owners group – and joins us from Salt Lake City. Thanks so much for being with us.

ERMIYA FANAEIAN: Thank you so much for having me.

FANAEIAN: I spent years and years in the gun violence prevention movement, where I worked closely with elected officials who were calling to disarm our community. And, you know, violent attacks against trans women was still happening (unintelligible). You know, we saw this at attack of Iyanna Dior, who was violently mobbed in the middle of a gas station one night. And that went viral all over the Internet. That made me quickly realize, if the police werent protecting us, if elected officials arent protecting us, then it is time for us to put our safety into our own hands.

SIMON: When you characterize the politicians with whom you spoke as people who have been in favor of disarming Americans, is disarm the word you now use to describe gun control?

FANAEIAN: It is. Absolutely. I think that, you know – yeah, I think it is to disarm people. You know, when we talk about gun control, gun control is an initiative to make it harder to gain access to firearms to protect ourselves, which ultimately makes it easier only for criminals who dont care about the law. So yeah, I would absolutely call it disarming.

SIMON: Do you feel when you were a gun control activist, you were wrong?

FANAEIAN: I dont think I was wrong because it is true that there is a problem with mass shootings in America. It is true that gun violence needs to come to an end. What I dont agree with are the stances that I and the organization I was affiliated with took. The positions were largely to ban AR-15s. They would largely be to ban assault rifles. They were largely to make it incredibly, incredibly hard for everyday working-class people to access firearms. And that is not something that I agree with in any sense now. I absolutely believe that working-class people should have access.

SIMON: Your decision to buy a gun reminds me a lot of what conservative opponents of gun control have told us over the years when they say its my right to protect myself and my family. I wonder if this feeling closes the political distance between you and people you have considered to be on the other side.

FANAEIAN: The fact is, you know, we both agree that we should be able to protect ourselves. But in regards to everything else, you know, the other side still – we do not agree on most things. We do not agree on economic systems, social issues, health care, the role of government. We dont agree on most things.

SIMON: And that statistic we read to begin with, 8 million more guns in this country, what do you say to those who say, you know, the last thing America needs is more guns?

FANAEIAN: Look; if anything has been shown this past year, its that we need more guns to protect ourselves on the left. The right is not just disarming themselves any time soon. And those who say, well, we dont need to arm ourselves, America doesnt need more guns, theyre living in a very utopian idealism, I think.

SIMON: Let me try and understand this. You know, in a time when were living just weeks after an armed insurrection at the Capitol, you are not talking about owning a firearm to affect policy.

FANAEIAN: Policy does not protect that. The way that our electoral system, our political system, our policing system has been set up, it does not protect that. And so largely, it is about the owning of firearms for our communal safety.

For many of us who are a part of marginalized communities and have been a part of more leftist, radical organizing for a long time now, we understand that there is no normal to go back to. I started being a queer activist when I was 15-years-old. And when I was 15-years-old, thats when death threats and stalking started for me in my life. And for many of us, weve never been in a state where we can just go back to brunch and ignore it all.

SIMON: Ermiya Fanaeian is the director of the Salt Lake City chapter of Pink Pistols, an LGBTQ gun owners group. Thank you so much for being with us.

FANAEIAN: Thank you so much for having me.

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With 5 resignations in the past year Hartford Selectboard members keep choosing the exit

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Five members of the Hartford Selectboard have resigned in the past year. Clockwise from top left: Dennis Brown, Alan Johnson, Alicia Barrow, Rachel Edens and Julia Dalphin. Courtesy photos

This story by Anna Merriman was first published May 25 in the Valley News.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION Hartford officials are planning a special election to fill two selectboard seats left open after board members Julia Dalphin and Rachel Edens stepped down this month.

They are the fourth and fifth members to resign from the seven-member board in less than a year.

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In her resignation letter submitted Thursday, Dalphin said she had accepted a new job as a chief quality officer for a home health agency in Barre in February, shortly before she was elected to the board in town meeting voting. She wrote that shed hoped to juggle work and board duties but her busy schedule has forced her to miss three selectboard meetings already.

The citizens of the town of Hartford deserve a person who can commit time and effort to the work that must be undertaken by the selectboard, Dalphin wrote. Presently I am unable to commit that time and must recognize that my resignation of my role is what is best for the town.

Edens, in her resignation letter submitted May 13, pointed to unexpected medical issues that forced her to step down. In an interview Tuesday, Edens clarified that she had suffered a pulmonary embolism that nearly proved fatal. She said she wrestled with the decision to step down, and worried about her duty to Hartford residents, but she ultimately needed to put her self-care first.

My grandmother taught me that voting was the most important thing one could do. She also taught me that The mind rules the body and You aint made of iron, Edens wrote. I regret that often I have pushed these admonitions aside in an attempt to foolishly undertake what I knew I could not carry.

Town officials said in a news release Tuesday that a special election will be held at a date to be determined, and details are being worked out in accordance with Vermont election procedures at this time.

In the three previous resignations over the last year, board members gave different reasons for their decisions.

Dennis Brown, who stepped down last summer, cited concerns with transparency on the board. Brown has since been reelected to the board.

Alan Johnson stepped down in the fall because he was moving to Montpelier.

Alicia Barrow resigned in January,citingblatant bigotry she said she experienced from community members over her race. At the time, Barrow was one of three Black members of the board.

Though all five members gave different reasons for their decisions, some officials have pointed to the workload as a possible contributing factor to the retention rate of board members over the last year.

The board meetings, for which members are paid $75, often run two to three hours but can stretch on for four or five hours. All told, members can work anywhere between seven to 20 hours a week on selectboard responsibilities, board Chairman Dan Fraser said.

In addition to the meetings, members serve on various town committees, said Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis. Especially for members who have families or jobs, that time commitment can be a lot.

We need to be cognizant of if youre in the midst of parenting and have a job, were asking for a significant time and brain commitment, she said. One of the things we can do better is being upfront about how much time and commitment this all takes.

Dalphin echoed that thought, adding in a message to theValley Newson Tuesday that she had a difficult time managing the extra committee work, which she hadnt anticipated when running for her seat.

It seems to me that the selectboard could benefit from a job description for committee members, allowing any candidate to understand all the requirements of the role, prior to a candidacy, she wrote. Good orientation and clear expectations often increase retention at places of employment.

Dalphin and Edensran in a slate of candidates,alongside current board members Fraser and Ally Tufenkjian, all of whom espoused more progressive values and platforms in their campaigns.

Edens also pointed to the workload and said she had the added pressure of being a Black woman in a leadership role in a predominantly white town. Early on in her time on the board, Edens, who was initially appointed to fill a vacant seat in the fall, faced onlinecriticismthat she said was likely tied to her race.

If youre a person of color, theres a whole other layer of responsibility, Edens said, and that can require a lot of emotional work.

Edens said her colleagues on the board were supportive of her, but it would have been beneficial both to her and the boards diversity to have other Black women she could reach out to for guidance. Though, she clarified, her decision to resign was tied to medical issues, and not to race.

I really think it would be wonderful if there was a way that Black women were able to connect across the state a network specific to Black women, she said.

Selectboard member Joe Major said he doesnt think there is one specific reason for the turnover in members over the last year, but the stress of Covid-19 likely has played a role.

Were just coming off of a pandemic that happens once every century. To say that isnt a factor would be shortsighted, Major said.

Regardless, he said he hopes the five resignations are a blip and not a trend of whats to come for the board.

It is not a good look in any way, shape or form, but I would say with pretty much certainty its more of an aberration than something that is inherent to the selectboard, he said.

Anyone with questions on the upcoming special election can reach out to the town manager at[emailprotected], according to the release.

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