This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from members of congregations that have received Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight the ways in which these grants are blessings, not only to the pastors who go on renewal leaves, but to the congregations themselves.
Hanging in one of the main hallways of the narthex is a work of art entitled “Sabbath Tree” (shown at right) by one of our local artists and congregants. This piece, dedicated to the church and pastor’s sabbatical, stands as a long term reminder of the work we did together that summer. Ultimately, it stands as a testament to the essentialness of Sabbath in a Christian’s life. In addition, the intercessory prayer group has continued its weekly meetings and the Spiritual Formation committee of the church is considering some renewal weekend retreats.
The goal of the congregational experience was to provide experiences for congregants that mirrored the pastor’s own experiences. Over the course of eight weeks, the congregation took part in a large group Sunday School class entitled “Prayers and Dreams.” Paralleling these classes was a series of events entitled “Praying with Jesus: Summer Sabbatical Saturdays.”
Much of the pastor’s time involved engagement with contemplative practices stemming from various Christian (particularly Celtic) traditions. Furthermore, some of the pastor’s work surrounding her sabbatical involved dream analysis with a Jungian therapist. While we did not focus on dream work per se, we connected to her work through our own analysis of dreams within the study of Scripture and Christian tradition.
Our first Sabbatical Saturday, “on the mountain,” included a climbing meditation with a liturgy that involved reciting the Beatitudes. Our pastor has pointed to her experience with the liturgy as a significant moment in her sabbatical. There was something powerful about congregants and clergy participating in similar liturgies that seemed to bind the process together well. These experiences created a connection without taxing either party or pulling them away from the core of Sabbath.
The entire series culminated in a Prayers and Dreams Congregational Retreat, during which time those involved in various aspects of the summer met together in a retreat led by the pastor. Here, we discussed our sabbatical experiences, and the pastor shared her insights from her time away.
Without a doubt, we would recommend the program to other clergy and congregations. Most congregations, especially large ones, follow a fairly traditional corporate model regarding employees, which does not include time for rest and discernment. A program like this one provides a congregation like ours with the important opportunity to engage radical gospel principles instead of traditional default corporate ones.
The above has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from First Baptist Church of Greenville, SC, served at the time by the Rev. Michelle McClendon.
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.