By Mike Mather, guest blogger
Our Clergy Renewal leave in 2000 first took us to India for two months, and then we headed off to the Ghost Ranch in Northern New Mexico for three months. My spouse Kathy and our two sons, Conor and Jordan (10 and 5 respectively), settled in at our new home.
The boys went to the local public elementary school, and Kathy and I took time to read and hike while they were off at school. On weekends we would make trips to places like Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and Bandelier National Park.
I got a chance to visit with one of the most innovative community development persons in the country, Maria Varela (a MacArthur Genius Grant Award winner), who was not to far away. She was a great encouragement to our work at our parish in South Bend. Even better, she introduced me to some of her friends around the country who were doing similar work, as well.
All of these things were good. But, after we returned from our Clergy Renewal leave, it was something small that had gone unnoticed by us that was the biggest gift from our time away. For six months – except for the lunches when our sons were at school – our family ate every meal together. (Would I make you jealous if I mentioned that we never cooked any of those meals nor cleaned up after any of those meals?)
This was not at all possible at home. At home either Kathy or I would often have responsibilities that would pull us away from breakfast before the boys had to get up and get ready for school. In the evenings, between the schedules of their activities, church meetings and gatherings that I had to attend, or the 12-hour shift that Kathy worked as a nurse at the local hospital, we were not able to share our meals together on a regular basis.
During our Clergy Renewal leave we often found ourselves in restaurants in India. We would often play Uno at the dinner table. Sometimes we would pick things up from a local market and sit in our hotel room, or at a public park, and eat together. Sometimes we found ourselves in the homes of people who opened their lives to us. They would tell us stories of their lives which sounded mysterious and differently-ordered than our own. It opened our eyes. Sometimes we even found little bits of home far away. The boys were particularly grateful when a month into our time in India they discovered a KFC in Bangalore. You would have thought they had been fasting for a month!
The Sisters of St. Joseph provided us hospitality in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and our first night there they went to great extravagance to provide us with a feast beyond our wildest imaginations. The housekeeper at the Mennonite Guest House where we stayed in Dhaka was happy to provide the spaghetti dinner every night that the boys had been so desperately missing from home.
Those six months away literally changed our lives. As we sat around the table together – usually three times a day – without the stress of work or other busyness, we took time to really listen to each other, to pay attention to each other, to celebrate each other. We learned things about each other. It changed our relationship. We grew closer. Our children saw us slow down (way down) and learned the value of this, a value that we see them now reflecting in their early adulthood. It was a table fellowship that healed us and renewed us most of all.
Rev. Mike Mather is senior pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, IN. He is a past recipient of a Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations grant.
The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seek to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.