Testimonial dinner for our severe teachers

Posted Apr 10, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Lawrence Peers


Thanksgiving dinner table by Eugene Wei, on FlickrThere is a healing ritual that I have facilitated at clergy retreats over the last ten years that is called, “A Testimonial Dinner for Severe Teachers.” I have adapted this particular activity from the Spiritual Eldering Institute, and I have used it most often at retreats for clergy approaching retirement within ten years or less.

It is, in fact, a helpful reflection for any of us within any season of ministry. In this season of Lent, this could be a good personal ritual or clergy group ritual.

The ritual

We all have had those severe teachers in our ministry. These are those people who have inflicted some wrong—in varying degrees—on us while we were serving a congregation or another ministry setting.

In this ritual of a testimonial dinner, we remember the following scripture: “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).

During this ritual, we enter a healing, prayerful silence, and we each do our inner work in the company of other colleagues as we recall those persons who have been our severe teachers in ministry. (Of course, it is not the case that all hurtful experiences can be reframed or that we can find some benefit from all these experiences.)

We reflect upon these experiences and perhaps write down our responses before each clergy participant is invited to share what they want by:

• Introducing the person whom they would invite to this “Testimonial Dinner for Severe Teachers” by giving that person a first name (real or imagined);
• Stating briefly what the person did that was difficult at the time that it occurred;
• Sharing how, with a retrospective glance, this person’s actions benefited us in our ministry in some way.

It is always moving to hear the wisdom, perspective, and clarity that has informed our practice of ministry moving forward from some of these difficult experiences. In this prayerful and playful way, it is helpful to acknowledge the ways that we have been shaped and formed in ministry—even by our severe teachers.

A similar reframing

A pastor has shared with us a similar kind of reframing that came about from his participation in a clergy peer group:

“Our group’s reflection has helped me see the bigger picture, to recognize that every church has difficulties as well as strengths. This larger perspective has helped me stay out of the wrangling of my congregation and not be swallowed up by a chronic complainer. I have come to appreciate and even love the most difficult person in my congregation, in spite of the fact that he always sees something wrong and he never apologizes. I can now hear him when he has something legitimate to say and let the rest go. He is still sometimes the thorn in my side, but the thorn no longer pierces me the way it used to. In fact, I now see him as my greatest teacher.”

An individual or clergy group practice:

Perhaps you can take some time to reflect on your severe teachers in ministry. In those circumstances that feel appropriate to do so:

• Prepare a table for these severe teacher(s) in your consciousness.
• Name what the hurtful action was.
• Then, see if you can articulate what benefit, insight, or conviction has come into your ministry because of or in spite of their actions.

Perhaps, allow yourself to let go of any residue of resentment you might have as you look at this experience in this retrospective way. Thank your severe teacher(s) for their unexpected gift to your ministry.

The image displayed in this post is "Thanksgiving dinner table by Eugene Wei, on Flickr" and is used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing.

Lawrence Peers is the director of learning of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Martin Homan 17 May
    Thank you for this narrative gift Larry. Could we not also use for lay members as they remember their severe teachers and refram them in the same way

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