This blog post is part of a series that features guest posts from pastors who have participated in Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants. We wish to highlight some helpful approaches to the process which have allowed these grants to be blessings to both the pastors who go on renewal leaves and to the congregations themselves.
Our goal was to experience renewal by gong on pilgrimage, both as pastor and as congregation. As pastor, I identified a number of sacred sites to visit and was thrilled to be able to visit all of them. I was also able to experience four weeks of rest in which to read, reflect and write. This time was especially renewing.
One of my most significant personal goals was to spend Holy Week on the Camino and celebrate Easter at Santiago. Achieving that goal was a life-changing experience. Witnessing the processing of Mary and Jesus through the streets and sharing in the Triduum at Santiago Cathedral were once in a lifetime experiences that brought home the central mysteries of the Christian story in a way that connected more deeply with me than I had thought possible.
Our family had never spent such an extended and close-knit time together, and this in itself was transformative. Our two daughters (7 and 10) really rose to the challenge of walking the Camino de Santiago and have found new confidence in their abilities. I still have a lot of processing to do in terms of incorporating the insights of the renewal program into my life. In particular, I am hoping to model a better balance between work and rest. As a family we are also trying to make a priority of spending more time outdoors together in the natural world – a direct result of the experience of walking the Camino.
I try to be good at delegating, but the experience of the sabbatical has helped me see that one of the most powerful aspects of ministry can be stepping back and supporting others in finding their own roles in ministry. Seeing how successful the parish program was has helped me recognize the tremendous human resources we have as a parish, and I am keen to build that insight into our future life in this place.
The sabbatical committee was essential to the success of this project, from start to finish. Its members wrote the original proposal together and then made possible the congregation’s experience of pilgrimage. In addition, they had specific oversight of special areas that contributed to the success of the project. The sabbatical committee provide vision, insight and hard work that enabled the parish to experience a dramatic period of inward growth through a huge array of programs.
The biggest surprise of returning to ministry was discovering just how much I enjoy the work of being a priest in this particular place. By the time I returned I was ready to re-engage with the parish and keen to work out what the next stage of the journey looks like. I feel so renewed from the experience that I feel so much more ready to meet the challenges of the future than when I left.
One of the biggest aspects of the renewal program to be continued in the years to come will be sustaining the importance of empowering lay ministry. Returning to the congregation, I am impressed at the way in which people have thrived during this three month renewal period. The congregation seems not only happy, but spiritually fulfilled, and open to new growth and new possibilities for ministry. I think the renewal program engaged people’s hearts and minds, and I think that the experience of a break from the normal routines has been transformative for the congregation. As a congregation we are even more alert to new ways of approaching ministry, and I think this would not have happened were it not for the renewal program. This piece has been adapted from the reflections of the Rev. Dr. Guy Collins, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Hanover, New Hampshire.