By: Christa Meland
From the isolation and pivoting required by COVID-19 to some painful health-related issues, the past three years have challenged Rev. Karen Ashton in ways she didn’t think possible.
What got her through them, more than anything, was her passion for horses and the opportunity to ride them at her friend’s farm.
“Where my well-being lies is with horses,” said Ashton, who serves Forbes UMC. “Whenever I’m not doing ministry, I’m trying to find a space where I can go and be with a horse…They ground me, they fulfill me, they inspire me, they give me enjoyment just being around them.”
So when she learned about clergy well-being grants through the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, she applied and was elated when she received one. The grants provide up to $1,000 for a specific resource or experience to improve clergy well-being. Anything from personal trainers and gym memberships to hiking boots, retreats, and dance classes are fair game. Recipients can apply for a subsequent grant of up to $500 for a second resource or experience. So far this year, 83 grants have been distributed to Minnesota clergy; they are made possible thanks to a $500,000 Lilly Endowment grant awarded to the Dakotas-Minnesota Area to address COVID-related fatigue and burnout facing pastoral leaders.
Ashton used her grant to participate in liberty training with her friend’s horse. Such training is designed to bring a horse a sense of freedom and safety without using any tack, including halters or ropes. But it also helps trainers become keenly aware of their bodies and their feelings, and engage in deep (elliptical) breathing—which ultimately relaxes the body and quiets the mind, said Ashton.
Not only has the experience allowed Ashton to let go of her anxiety and stress, but it’s helped her remain calm in reactive situations—both in and beyond ministry.
“My wish is the clergy well-being grants will remove the obstacles that hinder our clergy from improving their well-being and provide encouragement, support, and resources to help them focus on one aspect of well-being that could improve their overall life,” said Diane Owen, director of clergy well-being and the grant administrator. “We need our clergy to be whole and healthy, and we want to strengthen their resiliency that’s essential to lead effectively in today's world.”
Rev. Allison Warren also received a clergy well-being grant. She’d been saving money for a bicycle for herself and her 4-year-old daughter when it occurred to her that she might qualify for a grant for that very purpose.
“This was something I already wanted to do for my well-being,” she said. With her grant, she recently purchased both bikes, plus a trailer bike that attaches to hers so that she and her daughter can ride together, along with helmets, bike locks, and a bike rack.
“I’m hoping this makes it easier to exercise,” said Warren, a deacon who serves River Hills UMC in Burnsville. “It allows us to be able to say ‘it’s evening, we have bikes, let’s get on them.’”
As a single parent, Warren isn’t able to get to the gym, and even hopping on a treadmill is difficult with a young child who’s always on the move. Riding bikes is something they can do together, and her daughter is already loving riding around the cul-de-sac where they live.
Meanwhile, Rev. Jin Hur, who serves Fairmount Avenue UMC in St. Paul, received a grant that he used for a gym membership.
“I would like to be encouraged to improve my body, health and well-being,” he said. “I gained a healthier body, experienced a lot of fun and joyful time, and learned how important clergy well-being is.”
Hur said the grant not only supported him physically and mentally by helping him make time for exercise and meditation, but also financially by allowing him to use his personal funds for other things.
He has learned firsthand how important well-being is for clergy leaders.
“I believe a happy pastor makes a happy church,” he said. “And a healthy congregation nourishes a good leader.”
Ashton is full of gratitude for the well-being grant, and the time she’s been able to spend with her friend’s horse—time that’s helped her better navigate the unexpected challenges that come her way.
The biggest thing she’s learned about tending to her well-being: “I’m worth it…and I’m enough.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
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