Like yeast, weeds and mustard seeds, things sometimes spread and grow in remarkable ways.
I remember years ago, a man across the office hall from me would go on long walks. “Need to take it for a stroll,” he’d say as he left for the afternoon, referring to whatever project he was working on.
I found the idea attractive, and I started trying out lunch hour walks. I walked even when to-do lists tempted me to work through lunch. Sometimes, I relaxed. Sometimes, I watched muskrats swim in the canal. Eventually, I called these times “prayer.” I doubt the man across the hall meant to start anything, but even when he retired, I kept walking. I’d come to crave that daily practice.
Eventually, a new colleague joined me. Now, a third has come. We’re dogged in our walking practice. And, we’re friends. Our time together refreshes me. I never expected my solitary walking ritual to be soil where community could flourish, but so it’s been. Like yeast, weeds and mustard seeds, things sometimes spread and grow in remarkable ways.
“We must run and do now what will profit us forever,” writes St. Benedict in the prologue to his community’s rule. People of faith across generations have persisted in spiritual practices they believed would sustain and bless life over the long haul. Like prayer, like community, like Sabbath and renewal, some practices spread through a person’s soul or a community’s life and, in one way or another, bless us profoundly.
In the case of congregations, regular renewal and sabbatical times are opportunities to practice habits of blessing. Renewal leaves do not give busy leaders extra vacation time. Rather, they help leaders with uniquely demanding schedules carve out time to renew their resources for that ministry. These leaves express a community’s commitment to faithfully structure itself in ways that will sustain and bless life for all its members. While not all businesses and institutions in our culture prioritize sustaining and blessing structures, the church has prophetic opportunity to embrace exactly this sort of blessing process.
A premise of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs is that allowing pastors to briefly step away from the persistent obligations of parish life for times of renewal and reflection can be life-giving for both pastors and congregations. Renewal can happen for the pastor who steps away as well as for the members who remain to explore, for instance, new practices or studies. All are pausing. All are exploring new things. All have opportunity to be refreshed by this change in the congregation’s life rhythm. And, though any one sabbatical time or renewal leave is just that—one leave, one time—things sometimes spread and grow in remarkable ways.
We have spoken with chairpersons of renewal leave planning teams who have told us that collaborating with their pastors to prepare a Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Grant proposal were learning and growing experiences for the whole team. Whether or not they actually received a grant, congregations with no history of sabbatical leave policies have developed and implemented those policies as a result of thinking through their renewal proposals together.
This is the kind of story that we love to hear. Biblical parables, after all, describe God’s kingdom as something that spreads with the stealth and incredible speed of weed growth and leavening agents. Why shouldn’t the little idea of a new renewal practice spread into a congregation’s policy-making or a neighborhood’s imagination? Blessing has crept through this world in stranger ways.
The image displayed in this post is "Legs by jesiehart, on Flickr" and is used in accordance with Creative Commons licensing.
Rev. Callie Smith is administrative assistant for the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary. She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
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.