I end my retreat and return home tomorrow. I just wrote the piece below for our bulletin but thought I’d post it here as well. The memoir I refer to by Eugene Peterson (The Pastor) is well worth a read for anyone involved in parish life or a parish community. It gives some great insight into a profession that not a lot of folks (including those of us who engage in it, if we’re honest) understand or ‘get’. More on that to come…
Dear Friends in Christ;
I write you from my final day of retreat at St. John’s Abbey Guesthouse in Collegeville, Minnesota. I arrived on Monday May 9 and will leave tomorrow, Saturday May 14, after Morning Prayer. The week has been a blessing and a gift. For me, an occasional retreat like this (at least one per year) is so important. The accommodations at the Guesthouse are wonderful and very conducive to prayer and reflection. The monastic community at St. John’s numbers about 140, with a variety of ages and interesting backgrounds. St. John’s University is also part of the monastery. The university is well-known for Scripture work (think Collegeville Biblical Commentary and Liturgy Training Publications, also known as LTP Publishing). The daily prayer cycle of the monks is very ecumenical, accessible and beautiful in its simplicity.
Shortly upon arriving, I was drawn to pray and reflect on the gift and event of Easter. I took as my primary texts for reflection the Resurrection narratives in the four gospels. God was so good to me as I took time to pray and reflect on those accounts of new life in Christ. I have to confess that sometimes as Lent and Holy Week get rolling, not to mention Easter, I can tend to focus more on what needs to be done next than I do on what it is we are actually celebrating and bringing to mind and proclaiming in our midst. I suspect that if I asked other priests or folks in parish ministry I would learn that I am not alone in this regard.
Retreat is, for me, a time to connect again, in a very fundamental way, with my Lord and Savior. In some ways, it has been a rekindling of a relationship that I had been less attentive to than I would have liked – I am sharing this with you so that you know that struggles to grow in faith and to keep that living connection with Christ alive are not issues I am unfamiliar with – we all struggle in our relationship with our loving God. What I’ve learned on this journey, however, is that the relationship is not in my control, except for this one part: what I can do, and need to do, is make the space, the time and express the desire for the connection. God will do the rest. Sometimes when we give God this time, God breaks into our hearts in magnificent, profound ways. At other times, God will be with us in moments of simple quiet when we don’t necessarily “feel” anything… like sitting, without words, but just being in the presence of one you love who also loves and knows you.
God delights in me – that may sound conceited, but it’s not. God delights in you, too. Yes, you reading this: God delights in you! God weeps with you. God shares your life, struggles, hopes and dreams. You are incredibly important, significant and precious to God. I learned that again while on retreat. It’s something I will continue to learn, again and again.
I also spent some time reading a new book by one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson. He is the author of TheMessage, a version of the Bible in today’s language that has helped many people connect with Scriptures in a new and deeper way. Before retiring, Peterson was founding Pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church outside of Baltimore, Maryland. He served at that parish for 30 years! His recent memoir, The Pastor, offers some reflections on his own experiences of ordained ministry. His reflections are challenging, comforting and for me a reminder of the fact that I am really doing what I feel called to do – shepherding a congregation. I will share some of his insights in coming weeks.
As I prepare to return to St. Mary’s I want to thank you for your acceptance, patience and openness to my ministry here. More importantly, thank you for the many ways that, together, we work to offer worship, education, outreach and care for one another in the name of Jesus. –Fr. Scott