I want to begin by saying “Thank you!” to everyone who worked so creatively and diligently to provide such meaningful worship, study and mission opportunities through the season of Lent, culminating in our wonderful Easter Sunday worship services! From the music and décor to the opportunities to try new spiritual practices and travel the road of food insecurity, we all were invited to “Wander for the Love of God” and grow in faith together, even though the pandemic continues to affect how we worship and serve together. Your faithful participation is a testimony to our dedication and resilience as a church, and Tami and I are so very grateful!
I am also grateful for the pilgrimage we took through the season of Lent. Christine Valters Paintner’s guidebook The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within equipped us for some sabbatical time this summer that is far more than a vacation from one another. We are prepared with eight practices to discover God and God’s new life in our lives and in the world around us. In one of my 0favorite poems in her book, “In Praise of Circles,” Paintner writes,
We say “going in circles” when we mean nowhere.
Why do we worship the straight lines,
the most direct route, nonstop, leaving the past far behind?
A circle is both diameter and circumference,
compass and horizon, holding center and edge together,
calling us to the heart and the wild borders.
I attended three of the four pilgrim study groups and witnessed how people discover God’s call both to the heart and purpose of their lives and to new wild borders where they can continue to grow and discover more about God, themselves, and this world. Our journey through the Lenten and now Easter seasons with you all confirmed for me what happens when we go on pilgrimage together. We become amigos del peregrino, as the sign I saw in San Juan de Ortega, Spain put it. We become pilgrimage friends, friends on the journey.
There is another reason these groups and our worship theme have been important. “The purpose of these voyages is always to return home carrying new insight back to everyday life,” Paintner writes. Unlike tourists following a carefully planned itinerary, pilgrims stay open to new experiences as they travel. That’s why I think being pilgrims, going on pilgrimage, being on a journey of discovering God, one another and the world, provides an important frame for looking at our lives, faith, and ministry. We are traveling with God and one another. We are discovering God in new places and developing ministry. We are discovering new depths of faith. We are living the important questions of life and developing even better questions for life and faith along the way. We are learning how to be present, open, doubtful, and patient toward the unfolding of life. As Paintner writes above, all of this is part of holding center and edge together, discovering God within and beyond the boundaries of our current perspective.
Through this frame, we can explore what is next for us as a church. As we continue to reflect on the results of the Church Assessment Tool (CAT) we took last fall, the Session has committed to four strategic focuses:
- Strategic investment in the next generation of the church
- Building lay leadership capacity
- Strengthening relational infrastructure
- Investment in spiritual formation & mental health ministry
I have appreciated already how our commissions and committees are making these four items a part of their regular agendas to help them think about our work together.
Like many pilgrimages, my sabbatical journey has had to change course. I am only able to use one month of the sabbatical plan this year. The rest of the sabbatical needs to wait until it is safer to travel next year. Our Session and the Clergy Renewal Program of the Lilly Foundation have approved the changes to the plan, and a team of people is working on ways to cover the time Tami, Ben, and I will be away from our work at the church in July and August.
While we are away, I hope that you will stay on the journey with me, worshipping, growing in faith, walking together through the various activities being planned. Thank you for the journey we are on together as a church. Thank you for the ways we can continually grow in our awareness of God’s love and grace at the center of our life and faith and go to the edges of what we have yet to learn about ourselves and God and this world God loves. I look forward to what is next for us along the way.