I have retreated this week—retreated from routine—from normal and accustomed (which this year includes retreating from bed bugs and the whole process of debugging!). I have retreated to a mountain lake in North Carolina with five peers—colleagues, friends—fellow pastors with whom I’ve been meeting annually now for seven years. We get together to share thoughts on the lectionary texts for the upcoming year, to talk about the church and about ministry, to be supporters and encouragers of each other. We share our joys and our frustrations, our hopes and our fears, our accomplishments and our griefs—our ideas and our sermons. We are, to my way of thinking, church to and for each other.
Interesting to wonder if we might should be thinking in terms of how many “churches” of which we are members instead of which one. Interesting to think of a church’s mission as encouraging members to find other … more churches!
Our “church” has always relied on the generosity of members of our various other congregations—a mountain cabin in West Virginia, a farmhouse on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, two beach houses and one lake house (twice) in South Carolina, and now this lake house in North Carolina. How appropriate to gather as ministers and to talk about worship and ministry and church—always within the generosity and hospitality of the larger community of faith.
This year, our seventh year, our Jubilee, we brought our families. What a treat to see our children together. What joy to see my girls interacting with these who are so important to me, and to see how lovingly these who are so important to me cared for and celebrated these girls so precious to me. How significant that one friend knew my oldest well enough to check out a bunch of books for her from the library! How wonderful to know my precious girls will now anticipate this opportunity again. How wonderful that preaching camp (as special and vital as it has been) has been redefined, and is now all the more intimate for the inclusion of more loved ones.
We dedicate our mornings and evenings (after the youngest children are in bed) to our work, but the afternoons are dedicated to … well, fun and play. After lunch we go down to the water, and we don’t leave the water until it’s time for a late supper. We hang out on the dock, jump in the water and play with the kids, float, talk, take out the wave runner, go out in the boat, ride the inner tube, ski. My daughter started a list: “my experience water skiing,” “my experience inner tubing,” “my experience wave running,” “my experience getting dumped off the wave runner.” She could add, “my experience dancing with preachers,” “my experience in prayer and the breaking of the bread,” “my experience of another church community.”
Our first night, at bed time, one of our girls whispered, “This is neat.” Another night, being put to bed and hearing activity in the other room, she said, “Everything that’s fun happens in the night … and in the day.” The other girl, on one occasion, called one of the boys here her brother, and, on another occasion, one of the men here, my brother (“my experience of a bigger family”). And within their experience, as within mine, our hearts burn within us, and we know the presence of more than we can name—an experience that is a yearning even as it is a celebration. And we are church to and for each other—pastors to and for each other, old and young, male and female, employed by another church or not, baptized or not. And it is recreation. It is joy. It is hope.