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Megachurch Pastor: “I Am Tired In My Soul.”

The Rev. Howard-John Wesley recently told his congregation at historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., that he will take a three-month sabbatical after 11 years in the pulpit, saying, “I am tired in my soul.” 

Wesley, 47, said on Dec. 1 that he needs to recuperate mentally and physically after leading four services each weekend for an average 4,500 attendees for more than a decade, and will step away Jan. 1 through April 1The Washington Post reported 

The church also has an estimated 50,000 online viewers, according to the Christian Post 

“You can’t pour out of an empty cup. It is very dangerous for your pastor to be on empty,” he said after delivering a sermon on rest titled “Selah.”  “I need to take care of me.” 

Selah is a Hebrew word that has been been interpreted as an instruction calling for a break in the singing of a Psalm. 

“I want to draw back closer to the Lord. I want to know what it’s like to get back to the place where I spend the first hour of my day on my knees,” Wesley said. “Serving in ministry doesn’t make up for deficiency in prayer.  

“I want to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation without trying to write a sermon. I want to travel and go sit in the back of somebody’s church and hear the word of God and not be worried about what time we got to get out for the next crowd.”  

Wesley said he believed his call to rest was coming from God, and told the congregation, “I’m not leaving you.”   

I feel so distant from God. I feel like Jacob when God wrestled with him,” he said. “Sometimes God engages you in a struggle so that God can remove you from people to teach you to surrender, so God can break some stuff and make you walk differently.” 

Wesley told the congregation that at a recent annual physical, his doctor told said his “numbers were pointing in the wrong direction,” Christian Post reported. 

“You’d be surprised that the majority of black preachers are in horrible physical condition,” he said. “Their A1C is high, their blood pressure is skyrocketing, their cholesterol is bad, they’re on more medications than they should be.” 

“Hear me y’all, unless the Lord speaks to me differently, I ain’t gon’ die in this pulpit,” he said. 

Wesley argued in his sermon that rest is a biblical mandate and that the idea that busier you are the more important you are is “the greatest deception of the devil.” 

He also noted that while sabbaticals are common among white pastors, it’s uncommon for black pastors to take them because they are “afraid attendance might dip and affect the bottom line or the church may just function just fine without them.” 

Nichole Phillips, director of Black Church Studies at the Emory University School of Theology, told The Washington Post black preachers face especially high levels of stress in their jobs.  

She said black pastors are expected to be problem solving community leaders. 

Wesley was among preachers who led community protest marches after a New York grand jury ruled in July not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner in 2014, the Post reported, one of several fatal incidents that led to the Black Lives Matter movement.  

“Selah. And the word to somebody today is if you really want to be holy you gotta learn how to rest,” Wesley told his congregationI don’t know who I’m preaching to right here, but don’t you leave vacation days on the table. Don’t you leave PTO in somebody’s hand! You take every mental health day they gave you. It is ungodly not to use up all your vacation.”  

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.