For the last 13 years I’ve been going on an annual retreat, normally held at a retreat centre, with a leader who has a topic or a theme they work through in a series of talks spaced throughout the week. You are then encouraged to reflect on the input, take time out from your normal rhythm of ministry life and immerse yourself in a monastic way of life for a week. That might sound like your idea of heaven but I generally find that I’m lucky if I get half way through the week without going internally berserk!
It’s not that I can’t be silent, I quite like my own company, particularly sharing it with my creator. Most of the time the talks by the retreat leader are interesting and well prepared. The food and accommodation, apart from a couple of exceptions is normally quite good (although I did get eaten alive by midges last year).
Some retreats have been fully silent, while others have been semi-silent. Often when clergy talk at these types of gatherings it ends up complaining about something. I know ministry is hard and working in bureaucratic, hierarchical organisations is a challenge but ministry is the most rewarding and exciting thing I know. I sometimes feel we are too quick to complain and too slow to celebrate. That’s why I decided to do something different this year.
It has been a big start to the year in what is already a busy multi-faceted community. We have grown by an average of 40 extra people each week, we’ve welcomed Dale as a new team member, Bowen has changed his role and we have just launched a redevelopment project. I was feeling tired and had a strong sense that God was calling me to pause and resharpen for the next leg of the journey for us as a church and myself as its leader. I also knew that I wouldn’t get that outcome by locking myself away in a retreat centre.
So with the support of our wardens, my amazing family and the awesome team we have in our church ‘holding the fort’ I’ve just spent the last week in Melbourne, spending a few days with my mentor who leads a large church in suburban Melbourne, experiencing the worship and ministries of that church, working my way through some books, praying, note taking, planning, exercising (mostly to keep warm), eating far too much and having some conversations with people I respect who are doing exciting and creative things in their ministries. In full disclosure I did get to attend 2 different codes of football in Australia’s self-professed sporting capital (Go the Blues!).
I called Leanne on Monday and expressed that in the first few days I had gotten much more out of this experience than any retreat I’d been on. I’m sure I’ll be a good priest and do what I’m supposed to do next year but for this year I’m glad I decided to rebel. I’ve got lots of ideas swimming around my head, but above all I have an overwhelming sense of peace in our vision and purpose as a church and in my leadership. I’ve been encouraged, inspired, rested, refreshed, energised and I was even given a word from God from one of my friends.
In one of the books I read, Carey Nieuwhof says “change can happen in three to five years, but transformation doesn’t happen until the seventh year… change takes time, but true transformation takes even more time”. I’m conscious that we have changed significantly in the 4 and a half years that I have been with you. But I am excited that we are now entering a season of transformation. What that looks like, we’ll unpack over the weeks, months and years ahead as the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us as a church community, as we refocus, change focus and transform into the people of God we are called to be. I’m in no rush but we are on God’s timetable not yours or mine!
Each one of us needs to be encouraged, inspired, rested, refreshed, energised and given a word from God from time to time. In our own ways we need moments of ‘retreat’ so we can ensure we are listening to God and not our own or another’s agenda. If you are feeling like you need to retreat you don’t need to go to Melbourne; take it from me it’s really cold there at the moment, but learn from my experience and take the way you are feeling to someone you trust and talk it through with them. A church full of encouraged, inspired, rested, refreshed and energised people can’t help but be transformative.