It has now about 18 months since Riverside Presbytery inaugurated its Vital Congregations Initiative. One of the more significant components of this effort is the monthly gathering of Pastoral Leaders for prayer and support. (There are currently seven pastoral leaders spearheading revitalization in six VCI congregations. There are 12 other pastoral leaders of congregations who meet monthly, in two separate groups that I convene, also for prayer and collegial sharing.)
For 17 months, leaders have gathered to reflect on a brief passage of scripture. This sharing is not just theological musing, but also noticing ways that God may be speaking to our current situations through ancient words. The variety of topics and issues that arise show forth the uniqueness of each participant. Yet, we often find that there is much that we hold in common as we each serve in our specific ministries.
We are discovering fascinating traits, talents, hobbies, and interests in one another. We are struggling with the burdens of certain facets of ministry and then get surprised and uplifted by the caring support of each other in simple acts of listening and responding in kindness. We laugh, shed a tear now and then, and continue, month by month, to deepen our relationships as colleagues. Truly, God is blessing us.
Needless to say, the pandemic has been a constant issue for us. This month, during our opening check-in moments, someone shared that they had recently heard this question, “What have I learned about myself during this pandemic?” I immediately abandoned my scripture text for the day. Instead, I invited all to answer this question. Ninety minutes later, we decided to call it quits on the topic; but not before we shared many important things that we had each learned about ourselves this past year. I was emotionally exhausted; but also exhilarated. Engaging so significantly with one another produced remarkably honest, humbling, and hopeful reflections.
Our soul-searching produced these “learnings” which I share with you for your own reflection.
“I learned this about myself:
- I am resilient
- I am flexible
- I needed to adapt or die
- I became filled with hope and appreciation for the ways people reached out and cared for others, despite being separated physically
- I found it helpful to name my fears, my griefs, my chaos, my losses
- I realized that God leads us forward even when we cannot see an outcome or resolution (a light at the end of the tunnel)
- I learned how to zoom
- I learned about people’s formerly hidden thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors and realized that they were not the people I thought they were
- I trust certain people more
- I am more willing to reach out and find trusted people
- I am more able to ask for what I need from a friend
- I am more clear about what “really matters” to me
- I really like my “alone time” and my individual space
- I have come to see that my church never really “closed”
- I say that we are not “re-opening,” but “re-entering” for worship
- I believe that we never stopped doing ministry
- I am becoming more aware of people’s (and our culture’s) lack of caring, empathy, compassion for others, and lack of regard for rules, morals, and ethics
- I am dealing with my disappointment in certain people, and in certain aspects of our nation
- I see more clearly that some people strongly disagree and have different values (that are not likely to change) and I am accepting this
- I am paying greater attention to my grief
- I sadly realize how difficult the pandemic has been for individuals, for the church, and for our national culture
- I am committed to helping my church worship and serve by gathering both physically and virtually (and sometimes both at the same time)
- I see how important it is to withhold judgment at times”
Each of these “learnings” came with a story, a situation that was shared. We covered a lot of ground. And the outpouring was cathartic. In the end, the overwhelming feeling was gratitude.
While the time that the cohorts consume is just a snippet out of the month, the richness and spiritual solidarity we find is priceless.
We thank you for your prayers.
We are grateful for our ministries among the people of Riverside Presbytery.
May we continue to find God’s grace and blessing in our relationships as we serve.