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.
The congregation at St. David’s wanted refreshment and renewal time for their priest Sara, an experience of lay leadership and congregational strength, and an exploration of faith and story as a way in which the congregation might parallel Sara’s creative journey.
The congregation clearly grew in confidence and leadership—as reflected on not only by the designated key members, but by many people who responded to the opportunity to step into (and out of) their usual roles in a relaxed, affirming way. One commentator has reflected, “Diffusion of leadership has continued in morning services. I think the sabbatical allowed us to support Sara’s desire that lay leadership be more present and active. I think that happened and is ongoing.”
What significant learnings have emerged in regard to this experience? What surprises were there?
We have our own strengths that do not proceed solely from our strong, creative leader. We can take care of each other. More of us have grown in the ability to make decisions and to serve in worship and even preach. The congregation as a whole stepped up in welcoming visitors and newcomers, and Sunday attendance even grew slightly from the previous summer. We have some members now who started coming to St. David’s during the sabbatical, and we credit their continued attendance to the warm welcome they received from other parishioners. We had some planned lay-leader/vestry roles assigned to ”newcomer welcoming,” some folks who were designated to send out cards and make phone-calls, but in practice it was really the informal efforts of congregants who made connections during coffee hour and Wednesday nights that helped get these new members rooted. Another surprise (for the “glass-half-empty” folks among us) was simply that there were no major crises and that we were able to handle the minor issues that arose.
Would you recommend to other congregations that they encourage and support a renewal program of this kind? Why or why not?
Yes, absolutely. Any time people work together to deepen their obedience to their own faith callings, and to allow lay leadership to grow—both through a central leader taking intentional rest and refreshment time, and through leadership gifts being recognized and strengthened within the body—the result is positive and instructive.
Is there any wisdom you would share with other congregations whose pastors are about to take renewal leaves?
(1) Even if you think you have involved lay leadership, strive to gather even more input and buy-in from as many areas of the congregation as possible. (2) Encourage the pastor to provide her/himself with abundant resting time. Many pastors lead lives so full of intensely busy and important activities that they may need support to recognize what a more restorative schedule might look like. (3) Trust your people; when we invited lay leadership and both expected and provided a path to successful leadership, people stepped up creatively and in a life-giving way.
The above has been adapted from the reflections of congregation members from Saint David of Wales Episcopal Church, Portland, Oregon, upon the renewal leave of their pastor, Sara Fischer.
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.