Times to practice saying “amen”

Posted Sep 25, 2013 | Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs

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By Callie J. Smith


Coffee Shop Kenson 1I vividly remember meeting a man’s eyes as I handed him a scone and a cup of coffee. Normally, coffee and scones weren’t a big deal. I was a barista, after all. Working part-time at a café near the local hospital, I served countless coffees and pastries to countless people, and most of those moments passed unremarkably. But, this moment was different. This moment, it was as if I saw two worlds blur.

The day before, I’d been serving in my other vocational world—that of pastor. At our nearby congregation, offering this same man the bread and the cup, I’d met his eyes, too. “The bread of heaven and the cup of salvation,” I said as we smiled. He received the communion elements, said “amen,” and turned away.  Now here we were the next day, facing each other from either side of this particular café counter for the very first time. Again I handed him bread and cup. Again we met eyes. Again he smiled and turned away.

The bread of heaven and cup of salvation—how many ways they come to us, how many places they surprise us, how many times we could practice saying “amen.”

Bi-vocational pastors—or better, pastors with one vocation who express that vocation through multiple jobs—are not alone in having work that involves the different “worlds” of multiple communities. Bi-vocational pastors are probably also not alone in keeping so busy that they barely have time to relish the sometimes-surprising intersections among those communities. We often don’t have time to explore the possibilities and potential synergies between the many worlds that our faith communities do (or could) touch. We don’t typically have time, and yet, we need our religious leaders to take the time if they are to lead well and help us all, as people of faith, to explore the living, breathing, changing communities that God is weaving together in our midst.

This is what we at the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs mean when we suggest that clergy renewal is not extra vacation time. A renewal leave may include rest and play, but renewal itself includes more than these. Amidst rest and play coaxing us out of our normal routines and backing us off from our break-neck pace, renewal leaves can foster fresh perspective on some of the many communities that congregations and their pastors serve.

The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs provide opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and engage in times of intentional exploration and reflection. Pastors have used these renewal leaves to do things such as interrogate practices of hospitality while travelling in South Africa, dialogue about evangelism with Christians in Ethiopia, or learn with multi-ethnic congregations on the Pacific Northwest Coast of the United States. Examples abound of the ways that pastors and congregations have worked together to craft renewal leaves that nurture their relationships with one another and with neighbors far and near.

While there are countless ways to approach renewal, these renewal leaves that remove clergy from their contexts provide excellent opportunity to explore new communities and new ways that our congregations might intersect with them. Whether it’s a new flavor to the bread and cup or a new occasion to share them, our clergy and congregations—all—can craft exciting new ways to practice saying “amen.”

The image displayed in this post is "Coffee Shop Kenson 1 by Matchstick, on stock.xchng vi" and is used in accordance with their stated licensing. Photo copyright belongs to Matchstick (Martin Walls).

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 clergyrenewal@cts.edu.

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