by Rebekah Thornhill
Those who are charged with taking care of others can also be the worst at taking care of themselves. Which is why throughout our church, we are blessed to have initiatives that care for our leaders. Not only is healthier behavior and financial wellbeing encouraged, it is rewarded!
Each spring, Portico Benefit members are encouraged to participate in a health assessment. For the past two years we have earned a membership discount and a reward to our synod for having over 65% participation in this short survey. That reward has been put right back in to supporting the wellness of MNYS pastors – spiritually, physically, mentally, and professionally.
From our aggregated health assessment data, we are able to see that in many ways, our leaders are above average in taking care of their overall wellbeing. There are lower occurrences of risk factors around nutrition, weight, and tobacco when compared to all Portico Benefit members. Even still, we continue to look for ways in which we may be able to strengthen and care for our leaders; helping them in the areas where they need it most.
Through the health assessment reward, our synod has offered the Bishop’s Retreat at no cost to attendees. The retreat includes housing, meals, and programing; all with the intent of providing rest and renewal for our leaders. The retreat offers rich learning, worship, collegiality and with a variety of activities for pastors to find what they need most in this particular season.
This year’s thematic focus links into Growing Deeply in Faith: Five Years of God’s Creative Grace, a way for us to explore the means of grace to deepen out faith and mission. We began in 2014 finding grace filled conversations with Mutual Conversation and Consolation. This year we built on this foundation as we began the theme of Confession, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation. Throughout the program year we will have a variety of experiential and educational events, resources, and initiatives to highlight ways to live more creatively and deeply into this means of grace.
Confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation was first introduced in this retreat by a keynote presentation from The Very Rev. Michael Battle, who was recently appointed as the Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at General Theological Seminary in New York. Professor Battle walked through different stages of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation, offering ways to contextualize and think about how these processes are anything but linear.
The following day offered a panel of our own pastors presenting moments where they had experienced confession, forgiveness and reconciliation in their lives and ministry. Pr. Chyrll Crews from St. Stephen’s, Brooklyn, Pr. David Grainson from Holy Trinity, Rockville Centre, Pr. Daniel Peter from St. Paul’s International, Floral Park, and Pr. Emily Trubey-Weller from St. Stephen’s, Hicksville each offered compelling and varied vignettes. Eventually the floor was opened to further questions for everyone to dwell with, even when answers were not available.
As she described her seminary experiences, Pr. Trubey-Weller noted, "Worship became a place to practice confession, forgiveness and reconciliation until we felt it." And throughout the retreat time, participants came together in worship that was rooted in Biblical narratives around our theme. Mr. Paul Vasile helped to provide a musical continuity throughout our worship, leading us through contemplation on the texts and prayers as our voices quietly reverberated through the space.
During the first worship service, we heard the story of Joseph and his family. When we learned of his coat being torn apart, each person was given a brightly colored piece of fabric. Some draped their fabric over their own shoulders, making a coat. Others slowly intertwined it with their fingers as one might use a set of prayer beads, examining the rough edges where it had been torn. Over the course of the three days, the strips of fabric could be found draped across nametags, flitting out of hymnals, and eventually, the bearers of prayers woven around the font.
Part of the Sabbath and wellness time included the option for people to dwell in the Joseph story and their experiences with confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. As people adorned their fabric with prayers, symbols and words that represented their experiences, they were invited to prayerfully weave their fabric back together: The experiences of Joseph, his coat torn, and smeared with blood, were made beautiful as we created a new coat. By the end of the retreat, we gathered around the font and newly reconciled coat to be blessed and sent out into the world.
An entire afternoon was dedicated to Sabbath and wellness activities and allowing pastors to choose what they needed most. Participants could engage their body in yoga or 15-minute massages, find moments of prayer as they walked the labyrinth or through the stations of the cross, and explore their journey through individual confession, mutual conversation and consolation, and spiritual direction. Paul Vasile also offered a workshop to explore the power of music in building community. Pastors could seek out representatives from Portico Benefit Services, Mission Investment Fund, and Thrivent Financial for further conversations about their financial wellbeing. Many also found great joy in some friendly competition around the Bocce Ball tournament. Still others found this to be a perfect opportunity for a catching up on reading, sleeping, or tasks that have been unattended.
Our final plenary session allowed us to look at confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in film. Guided by Richard Wolff, professor of speech, media studies, and religious studies at Dowling College, we watched portions of 4 films and discussed how these examples could be help provide insight to our thinking or be used in a congregational setting for education and discussion.
Throughout the 2015-2016 program year, we will be continuing to provide ways for all leaders to engage in confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The next Bishop’s Retreat will be October 25-27, 2016 at Holy Family Retreat Center with the theme of Preaching and Proclamation.
View more pictures from the 2015 Bishop's Retreat.