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Monday, October 27, 2008

Annual Clergy Retreat

I'm off later this afternoon to the Pocono's for Annual Diocese of Newark Clergy Retreat. We'll be staying at the Shawnee Resort in Shawnee, PA until Wednesday.

The theme is "God Brings Us To Our Senses" and the speaker is Don Saliers, the Wm. R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus, at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. His daughter, Emily, is one half of the Grammy Award Winning duo, The Indigo Girls.

We're going to be talking about Worship, one of the Four Gates of Hope which have been identified as the vision of this diocese by our bishop, Mark Beckwith.

The other three are: Spiritual Formation, Justice/Non-violence, and Radical Hospitality. It's a good vision which begins with where we are as a diocese and calls us to where we might be.

I remember being an aspirant for Holy Orders, way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and hearing my rector talk about the Annual Clergy Retreat. I so wanted to go with him and hang out with the Clergy and sit at the feet of the Bishop and just soak up all that wisdom and prayer.

My rector looked at me, sighed deeply and said, "The only time I ever question my vocation is when I with a bunch of other clergy - especially when we're all in the presence of the bishop."

Well, the polish is off the apple, and, all these many years later, I have often found myself agreeing with him. Something squirrely happens to some clergy in the presence of the bishop - something that's probably a part of the normal growth and development cycle of priestly formation, but something that some clergy never seem to outgrow.

Not that this bishop elicits that response. He's about as down-to-earth-just-call-me-Mark as you can get. I really appreciate that about him. It's natural and effortless, then, to give him the respect someone in that thankless office deserves.

It will be good to sit and hang out with many of my colleagues, to catch up with them on where they've been and what they're doing, and their take on all things diocesan.

There will also be opportunities for some real, honest sharing - like, our concerns about how the economy might affect our Stewardship Campaigns. Like, some of the 'parishioners from hell' who continue to give us the blues, sorting through all the transference / counter-transference stuff. Like, listening to how some have fashioned their sabbaticals or are planning for retirement, or a vocational move.

But, much of it will be those horrible conversations which try Very Hard to be Meaningful, but are Very Painful.

Me: Hi, how are you? (Gee, he looks weary.)
He: Great! (I'm lying through my teeth) You look fabulous! (How many clothes closets does she have anyway?)

Me: Thank you. That's good to know, because I'm feeling a bit weary (a gentle attempt to go for a modicum of honesty).
He: (I see where this might lead and I ain't going there) Well you look great. How is the family?

Me: Oh, we're all doing fine (He doesn't really want to hear the details, so be succinct, and anyway, we ARE all doing fine).
He: (Looking over his shoulder and spotting another clergy person) And the church? Everything going well at the church?

Me: Oh, it's the same this time of year for us all, isn't it? Programs are in full swing, we got the Stewardship Season Anxieties and Budget Blues. . . .
He: Oh, you have nothing to worry about in Chatham . . . now, if you were where I am . . . that would be another story . . . (laughs nervously, waves at another clergy person.)

Me: Well, many of my people may work on Wall Street, but, believe it or not, there IS a Main Street in Chatham (I'd really like to talk with you about all this).
He: Yeah, well, it's nothing like the Main Street where I live (now smiles broadly at the next clergy person to walk by and calls out his name).

Me: Maybe we can talk about that later. I'm guessing we could help each other with creative strategies and . . . .
He: (Now greeting the clergy person). Yeah, great. I'll catch up with you later. It's so good to see you. You really look good.

Me: Great to see you, too.. . . .

And then, it's off to hail another fellow well met.

Deep sigh.

I drew a picture last year in my Journal of my impression of Clergy Retreat. It was on the Great Meadow at Shawnee. There were lots of rabbits in clergy collars, all nervously hopping around each other. It makes me giggle a sad giggle to look at it.

I just thank God for the clergy colleagues I'll meet there with whom I can actually have some intelligent, honest conversation. And, the opportunity to work on my writing. Oh, and, of course, a full body, 90 minute massage.

We've been praying this prayer At The Gates of Hope, which I think is a good way to stay focused during retreat.

A prayer for the Gates of Hope

O God, help us to claim our mission: to stand with the living Christ at the gates of hope. Not the prudent gates of optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges; but a very different, sometimes very lonely place. It is the place of truth-telling, about our own souls first of all and its condition; the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which we see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which we glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle – with the Christ who sets us free; and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we see, asking people what they see. In Christ’s name we pray.
- Adapted from a prayer by Victoria Safford

Or, then again, maybe this from the Indigo Girls would help to remind us that if we continue to look the other way, we will miss the vocation we all have: to be the ripple in the water. May God 'bring us to our senses', indeed!

"Perfect World"

We get to be a ripple in the water
We get to be a rock that's thrown
We get to be a boy on the bridge
Standing over the reservoir

I see the water lapping on the shoreline
Buried forest of a man made lake
Cemeteries are laying underneath it
Your heart like a dam when it breaks

We're floating we're swimming
And at this moment we are forgetting
What we caused what it takes
The one perfect world when we look the other way

I'm OK if I don't look a little closer
I'm OK I if don't see beyond the shore
I'm OK I don't have to do the killing or
Know what the killing is for

We're talking we're driving
And in this moment we are denying
What we caused what it takes
The one perfect world when we look the other way

One perfect world...when we look the other way

You can see beyond the middle isolation
And the miracle of daybreak doesn't move you anymore
Connect the points and then see the constellations
As the night comes down on the reservoir

We're swimming we're floating
And in this moment we are beholden
To what we've caused to what it takes
The one perfect world
Can we learn to live another way

Perfect world...can we learn to live another way

One...perfect world
Get to be a ripple in the water


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, I'm depressed, now. This sounds as bad as medical meetings. No one wants to look like they're not doing well, but no one wants to look like they're doing overly well, either!

Muthah+ said...

At least you have a speaker that is worth listening to. We don't even have enough money in the diocese to pay for a speaker. So---the Clergy Conference was as inane as the conversation that you were talking about. I couldn't even bring myself to go.

I did go to the Lutheran clergy conference and it was awesome! First, the conversations were much better and much more honest. The relationship of the bishop to the clergy is quite different--it doesn't have the sense of parent/child that I often find among Episcopalians. But most of all the liturgy had been well planned--by the chosen chaplain of the conference. There was a chapel where we could go during the day--there was a glorious place to walk around and there were events during one afternoon that encouraged us to go shopping, winetasting, golfing and other relaxing venues. I came home uplifted and rested. It was all that I could hope for from a Clergy Conference.
You are in my prayers as you Conference, Sistah!

Hiram said...

I do not go to Clergy Conferences any more. Even when there are some good things, the difficult ones become so negative that in the end there is a higher emotional and spiritual cost than there is benefit. For a while, they balanced some years, and I went in hope that it might edge over onto the positive side. The conversation you give as an example is all too common.

The only thoroughly positive clergy conferences I attended were in the Diocese of South Carolina when Bp Alison was bishop there - great fellowship, authentic worship, engaging and edifying teaching.

Most other clergy conferences I have been to were variations on the pschodynamics of parish life, the "latest thing" on syncristitic theology, or a combination of the two. It takes a week or two of contact with the real people of my parish to recover from such saddening experiences.