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'I really felt like I was at my rope's end.' Seattle pastor finds strength by showing weakness

Pastor Peter Chin stands in his office. His office is decorated with kid drawings, family photos, and Mariners merch
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KUOW/Brandi Fullwood

Burnout can manifest differently across job sectors. Long hours and an intertwined work and home life balance makes things tricky. Since the onset of the pandemic, many clergy members have been wrestling with how to do and be everything their community needs. Some have even considered quitting ministry altogether because it’s too much to handle.

“After the pandemic, I really felt like I was at my rope's end in terms of ministry,” Pastor Peter Chin said.

Chin is the lead pastor of Rainier Avenue Church, located in the Rainier Valley of Seattle.

He said when it was time to take his scheduled sabbatical last year, it was clear he really needed it. But not everyone understood that.

Chin said people don’t think about being a pastor as a job or a vocation. They think of it as a calling.

They think, "Your life's not that hard. You just work once a week,” he said.

But Chin’s pastor duties extend up, over, and beyond Sunday.

It requires a broad set of skills to steward a community, teach from an ancient text, provide pastoral counseling, and manage a staff.

Whether it’s a funeral or even a bad breakup, it’s not uncommon for people to turn to clergy members in times of need. Wherever, whenever there is need, you're there, Chin said.

And he wants to help. Chin believes that helping others is a big part of his calling.

But in the last few years, his ability to help became increasingly difficult as time wore on. Chin said the pandemic — as it did for many jobs — gave pastors extra work, extra work that he was not always able to do. He needed some time.

“It's never easy to be the leader, a spiritual leader for people and to be kind of a spiritual presence for people," he said. "And the pandemic made that almost impossible.”

Outside of Rainier Avenue Church
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KUOW/Brandi Fullwood

In March 2020, his church moved to online services. These days they stream service every Sunday on YouTube.

This includes scripture readings in a variety of languages like Amharic, Hindi, Spanish, Lao and Korean. Chin thinks the church community reflects the diversity of the Rainier Valley pretty well.

Grounded in diversity, faith, and community, Chin explained that church is often one of the best places to discuss the most difficult conversations.

Throughout the pandemic, everything from racial injustice to grief found a place in sermons, small groups, and book studies.

But trying to take on everything and attempting to do it well took its toll on Chin. He realized pretty quickly that he was not able to be or say everything that was expected of him.

“I think a lot of us have this internalized sense of clergy people and pastors being these divinely called people and so are superhuman in that way,” he said. “And so we actually need to be able to say, 'No, they have a very specific calling, it's very important one, but they are human beings at the same time.'”

For three months Chin took some space for himself during his very providential sabbatical. He picked up the drums, much to the chagrin of his neighbors, and he spent time with family. He said he loves being a husband and father.

A peak at some of the Pastor Chin's interests, including several many books on theology.
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KUOW/Brandi Fullwood

Chin said that tapping into his personhood is an evolving reality and phenomenon for both himself and society at large. Growing up he always heard how much pastors should sacrifice in service to their ministry. But that seems to be changing.

“There are still plenty of people who have that expectation of pastors,” he said. “But fortunately, there are more emerging conversations where people are being real about the needs and about the reality that pastors are human and so have the same kind of needs and boundaries other people have.”

Peter is still considering his relationship to work and his role in a community. But he’s taking it day by day.

“I want to say that I think I'm beyond where I was even a year ago,” he said.

When he wakes up for work, some days are good and others are really difficult.

Chin said he hopes he and his congregation can continue conversations about his humanity. He thinks it's vital to the longevity of a pastor, but also the health of the church.

“I may have this calling, I may have to do very important things, oftentimes," Chin said. "But I'm just as human as anyone else.”

Soundside producer Brandi Fullwood spoke with Pastor Peter Chin about how his relationship with his work has changed and how he sees the Great Resignation among his fellow pastors.

You can hear the full segment by clicking the audio above.

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