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.
Our primary goal was to provide our rector with 16 weeks away from all responsibility at the congregation so that she might be relieved, refreshed, and renewed for the years that lie before us, together in ministry. We wanted her to be able to delegate more of the minutia of parish life to others.
It was a very positive time for our parish. From the planning stage through her return, I feel we grew as a parish and were able to come together as a group to establish our individual identities and how they relate to our church.
The pastor did an outstanding job preparing us for her trip. The vestry retreat, held in January, was focused on getting everyone ready to take charge of running the church without her everyday presence. She introduced the clerical team, all members of our parish. The team would be responsible for any activities which might require a member of the clergy to oversee. The vestry left the retreat confident that we were going to be in good hands. The congregation came together in a way I have not experienced in the 20 years I have been there. During her absence, we came together to celebrate Holy Week, develop and execute two fundraisers, organize and perform a large memorial service for a former member, and continue to grow our numbers, attracting a number of new members into our church family! We came together as one rather than a gathering of a few small groups.
We continue to share our congregation’s experience with the pastor in our ongoing work together—particularly, we lay leaders are desirous of enhanced and continued strong front-line leadership in our parish. Our strengthening as a parish community during the clergy renewal program helped us greatly, in recent months, as we successfully and healthily made our way through a difficult conflict involving parishioner misbehavior. As it turned out, our parish Vestry handled the situation—not the rector or diocese—and we are all stronger, again, for the experience.
This piece has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Woodstock, IL, served by Rev. Patricia Conley. When asked what parting wisdom they would share with other congregations whose pastors are about to take renewal leaves, they responded: “Why did you wait so long? Don’t be afraid, be excited. Good things will come of this – very good, indeed.”
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.