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“Who are your workers and what do they carry with them emotionally and spiritually into worship?”

I frequently ask pastors and worship leaders this question to encourage pastoral curiosity within their parishes with their people. What joys and burdens do your people bring when they walk through your church doors, and what do they need to hear and know to send them back out to engage God’s work in their daily living?

These are important questions – ones that mold and deepen the ways you engage with your congregation Sunday and Monday alike. But we are workers too. So what do we bring with us each week into worship?

This worker narrative was written from my voice and much of my own experience. It also bubbled to the surface because of many conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues in these past few years as we struggle with our callings and our contexts. This won’t be everyone’s experience. But for those who resonate with it, may you know you are not alone. 


68 Sundays.

For 68 Sundays, I adjusted my light ring, carefully positioned the camera, and hit record.  “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.  We open God’s Word today….”  

There I sat, in an empty room — willing the memory of bodies, the sound of voices, and the rustling of paper bulletins to be real enough in my soul that preaching might have something of an incarnational presence once again.

For 68 weeks, I raised my arms to bless a scattered congregation of people who would receive the edited version 48 hours later. For 68 weeks, I sat on my couch on Sunday mornings, wondering if our people would see a more interesting option on the YouTube sidebar and click over halfway through the sermon. 

March 2020 was an embodied exodus story. If I’m going to be truly honest, we as a church were not doing well long before it began with the arrival of Covid 19. A different kind of virus had seeped into the walls of the church and the minds of the people, and it left so much death and destruction in its wake. Political toxicity scorched the common ground and the common good, growing a chasm so deep it forced people to continually step further and further away for fear of getting burned. Families fractured. Cities rioted. Social media poisoned. Countries gawked. Churches ignited.

And pastors? We lived in a perpetual state of fear, feeling like we were trying to make ministry bricks without straw. Living under the oppression of opinionated voices, we agonized over our words in the pulpit, fearful they would be perceived as “too political.” We sat through painful conversations, donning our neutrality like an ill-fitting piece of clothing, trying to remain a calm and non-anxious presence. We watched people lobby in the lobby. We wept as colleagues and former seminary classmates walked away. 

The arrival of the pandemic felt like a lightning bolt of adrenaline. And for us “doers,” it was enough to get us back on our feet, ready to take action and do the really difficult things our pastoral care classes had equipped us to do. We led our people faithfully through the Red Sea of lockdown, grateful for the resilience of our staff teams to get worship up and running online. We charted a course of cloud by day and fire by night with advice from the medical personnel in our congregation who spoke with expertise and wisdom. Manna and quail were provisions that came in the form of drive-by birthday celebrations, pastoral care visits on porches, and hearing stories of ways people were once again caring for each other as the body of Christ.

Little did we know though, how prolonged our wandering in the wilderness would last. I remember being hopeful we would be back in person for Easter 2020. If not then, certainly by the summer. We better start thinking about fall programming for Sunday school because we’ll be back to normal then. Christmas? Spring? Grumbling grew louder. Arguments over masking and vaccines reverberated from 6 feet apart. Our sturdy pillars were called to question. The manna began to rot. While I juggled my own deteriorating mental health and the needs of my family, the pressure was increasing on all sides. It would have been better to let my calling to ministry die back in Egypt. 

Still, we journeyed on.  Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, we journeyed. We stopped to build altars of gratitude and remembrance. We buried our loved ones in new and surreal ways. Worship services were portable and could be watched from wherever and whenever. New enemies would pop up in the form of racial violence, government coups, political death threats, and medical protests. Still, we journeyed on.

As we finally neared the Promised Land of fully accessible vaccines coupled with warmer weather, my feet were so blistered from the hot sands of conflict. My garments were worn thin by the whipping winds of rhetoric. My soul felt as dry and desolate as the landscape I was preparing to depart. 

And here I am in the promised land — a land I had hoped would have enough milk to quench my thirst for a new calling, and enough honey to make the mantle of ministry sweet again. But I am weary. I am cynical. I have nothing left to give. Congregational singing sounds nothing like the heavenly foretaste I once remembered. The pews are nowhere close to as full as they once were. Tithing is withheld in protest like indulgences. Nobody has capacity to volunteer but expectations remain disproportionately high. The church has already found new ways to create conflict. My fellow leaders burned out and went home by another route.

“Be grateful” they say. Life can return to normal. Church can return to normal. It’s been a long journey, but we made it. As I stare at my new surroundings, I can’t help but feel it. I’m back to making bricks without straw. 

Katie Ritsema-Roelofs

Katie Ritsema-Roelofs is a commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.  She currently serves in two positions: worship consultant for the CRC’s Thrive agency, and project director for Fuller Seminary’s Worship for Workers initiative. She is the former Minister of Music and Worship at the Washington DC Christian Reformed Church and lives in the greater DC area with her husband and three children.


  • Oh, how I feel your pain! I served as an elder prior to and during Covid and recovery from the experience is taking a long time. I can only imagine the grief of those of you who have made ministry your vocation. I’m so sorry. For you and for the church. God’s heart must be so grieved.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thank you for this, well, sacrificial offering.

  • Deb Mechler says:

    “Bricks without straw,” and everything else does resonate. Thank you for a profound rendering of the experience. God will restore us in new ways, be assured.

  • Phyllis Roelofs says:

    Thanks, Katie, for your honesty with this portrait of 68 Sundays. My view from a pew resonates with your descriptive thoughts and feelings. You are a ministry treasure.

    • Rev Curt Roelofs says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with Phyllis. Thanks Katie, you are God’s gift to Christ’s Church. Thanks for sharing! 🙏🙏🙏’s. For you and your family.

  • Dominic Palacios says:

    You are a gift to the church Katie. Thank you for putting my feelings into words. You are a gift.

  • Rick Theule says:

    Katie – Thank you.

  • Emily R Brink says:

    Thank you, Katie, for this lament that continues after 68 Sundays. You didn’t mention the challenging assignment of planning and leading worship at the recent CRC Synod, mercifully cut short, yet surely contributing to your lament. So many in exile in different times and places have taught us to pray with them: Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

  • Dora Stroobosscher says:

    I am not a pastor but a long time member of and elder in my CRC church. Thank you for so truthfully sharing your thoughts. At some level we all feel the pain you so closely and clearly articulated.
    I just thank you for doing that. It takes great courage and true humility.
    May God lead us to a new way to follow in the footsteps of Jesu, the way of love and acceptance.

  • James Hart Brumm says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I keep telling myself that, somehow, the Hebrews made the bricks without straw, and Jesus fed the crowd with five loaves and two fish. God must have some way to use me.

  • Betsy M says:

    Deuteronomy 29:5
    I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

    That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been terribly hard, leaving us weakened. And also, God has been here in the wilderness.

  • Steve says:

    Our congregation was extremely resilient and nearly conflict-free during the pandemic. We moved worship online for 15 months. Our pastor and council was firm that we will all sacrifice and be cautious to protect those in our community who were the most vulnerable to the disease. We relaxed as the vaccine became more readily available. What was remarkable was that we held a capital campaign and ran a design/construction project for a new location while we were meeting online! This may have actually unified the church or at least provided a carrot on a stick: it may have created the tolerance to endure just about anything, because at the end of all this, we will be moving into a new location. We also hired a new full-time worship leader while online, to have them ready to take over when we went back into in-person worship. STILL, we had a staff retreat the Fall of 2021 where we all felt that we had been paddling a lifeboat and now that we had made it home safely, our passengers were ready to explore the new island, but now that we could relax a bit, our arms were exhausted (by both the online experience and the stress of design/construction/fundraising remotely) that we needed sabbaticals. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for some who led churches through political and conspiratorial turmoil. God bless them.

  • Mike Bultje says:

    I appreciate your article. “Political toxicity scorched the common ground and the common good,” resonated with me. I began seeing this seep into the conversations and social media posts of fellow Christians pre-covid. Then covid hit and became political in the public eye and this toxicity worsened even further. I’m not a pastor, but can only imagine the hardship our pastors are continuing to endure: finding constructive middle ground from which to lead the church amidst the many who are so vocal with polarizing opinions they see as the only truth. As a physician, I’m used to working in situations of uncertainty…gray areas…and being able to take action based on the information known at the time, but open to changing course if I’m wrong. I think pastors are too. The Bible, the inspired word of God, is infallible; however, our interpretation and of understanding of His Word does not always provide the black and white answers we would all prefer. I am hopeful that after the spiritual turmoil I’ve internalized over the past several years, perhaps the Lord will lead me to a body of believers who are comfortable working in those gray areas and focus on finding common ground, while asking Him for wisdom and discernment in these areas of uncertainty.

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