I have spent the last week on the stunning Oregon Coast, nestled in the tiny town of Manzanita, dreaming, reading, walking, praying, planning, and wondering. It has been utterly delightful and it has also been really hard work. You see, this week has not been a week of vacation — though it has certainly felt restful! — but a work week called “Study Leave.”
This is a week or two that ministers in our Conference receive each year as part of their ministry… time away from the day-to-day life of the church to deepen our faith understandings and spiritual life, to hone skills and expertise, to plan and dream. The expectation is that this time will be fruitful for the life of the church, showing up as richer preaching, a more informed minister, better leadership, a more expansive vision for the church.
Sometimes ministers will use this time to attend a conference or retreat, but as a recent graduate from seminary, I didn’t feel I needed more “inputs.” Instead, I took some books and flip sheet paper and computer, my markers and yoga mat and music, and holed up in a room for a week. I also brought you along with me, in the form of the prayer shawl that you gifted me, and enjoyed wrapping myself in your care on several chilly mornings.
I confess I felt a little abashed at the beginning of this week.
It felt like an abundance of riches, staying alone on retreat next to the ocean instead of doing “church work” — leading worship on Sunday morning, visiting those of you who’ve been hurting, participating in the church rummage sale… But as the week has unwound, it’s become so clear to me why this time is needed… so needed.
There’s something of a weekly churn that happens in ministry, with Sunday relentlessly approaching without fail. Add to that the other duties of ministry — visiting with people, tending to the administrative needs of the church — and it’s hard to pull yourself out of the cycle of Doing.
As this week unfolded, I found myself thinking larger, more expansively, more deeply about how to care for Suquamish Church. This more expansive thinking felt very fruitful to the life of the church.
I have spent time deep in planning for worship for the next year, plotting out alternative worship Sundays, the theme or emphasis of regular services, and planning for worship series. I’m returning with a road map of our worship services through next September that our worship team and choir can use for their planning.
I also spent it with four book companions:
- Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World, by Rev. John Dorhauer (our UCC National President)
- Thematic Preaching: An Introduction, by Jane Rzepka and Ken Sawyer
- This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers, by Lilian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver
- Real Good Church: How our church came back from the dead, and yours can, too, by Molly Baskette. (hated this title but this was a very practically helpful book!)
These have led me to think deeply about the priorities for the church, where the needs of the Church — both ours and those people who have yet to find us — are headed, and how to best use my time.
I read these books in conversation with the Holy Spirit and with all of you, who’ve shared your hopes and dreams over the last half year, your “you know what we really need…,” your “when can we start ____?”
Based on these, I’m emerging from the week with a draft of a three-year plan, which I’ll share with the council and with all of you at the semi-annual meeting on Sunday. I look forward to your feedback and conversation around this draft.
I’m deeply grateful that this church valued this reflective and expansive time for me. Thank you for the gift of this week. I hope you feel its value as this and future years unfold.