Thank you! I’ll get back to this in a bit.
For the past three months – mid February through mid May – I’ve been given the gift of time away. I didn’t “earn” it; it was a gift from the churches and people of the Iowa Conference. Most employees never ever get something like “sabbatical.” I’m a bit awed at the privilege of this experience.
The role of clergyperson is an odd one. We teach and preach faith, we care for souls (and bodies too, sometimes), we encourage the flagging and challenge the over-confident. We advocate for justice and for peace and for grace and for love….and a whole lot more, at times. Hopefully we especially teach those things by living them as well as advocating for them.
Those responsibilities are God given and they are very important. But there’s something else the pastor is enjoined to do – in the words of the UCC rite of ordination, the pastor promises “to be diligent in…private prayers…”
I’m interested that the charge to pray is modified with the word “private.” The ordination vow is referencing something other than prayer in worship and other corporate occasions. I’m sure prayer is right and good in those places and times, but as ones set aside for ministry in and on behalf of the United Church of Christ, we are enjoined to pray….to pray privately.
The shape of my prayer life has evolved significantly over 37 years of pastoral ministry. One constant has been struggle. As a younger person, I inherited rather specific understandings about prayer. To put it simply, prayer may have been private, but it was assuredly rational – it consisted of “words” – whether spoken or not. I think rational prayer is very good, but the older I get the more I’m drawn to prayer that is…well….non-rational. I don’t mean irrational….I mean other than heady. For me, at least, this kind of prayer can only be entered as I slow down and set aside the objective expectations of everyday life.
And that’s what sabbatical became for me these past three months: A time to slow down and leave space for God’s ministrations.
Obviously prayer is appropriate for every follower of Jesus, but long ago the church learned that it benefited when it made it possible for some of its members to pray in wider spaces (literally and metaphorically) than what the incessant expectations of everyday life make possible for most of the baptized.
So here’s the barb: If I’m right about this, then those of us privileged by God to serve the church for pay probably owe the church LESS activity rather than more.
We live in very busy times. Efficiency is a byword of the 21st century economy and we – I!! – are not exempt from the harsh task-mastering of the call to be efficient.
Thank you for giving me three months to pray. I did it in a variety of ways. Sometimes I did the classically meditative thing and sat quietly. Other times I read (but not mostly theological works….though I did read Brueggemann’s recent little book on Sabbath, and I recommend it), I travelled and cared for my grandchildren (and my wife and my landscape beds, too!).
I prayed, believing that doing so was part of my call to care for you and to lead you.
I hope you’ll pray too. I hope you’ll pray just a bit more than what you think you have time for. It might be the very best gift you can give those whom you are called to serve.
With Gospel hope!
UCC in Iowa