Summer is a great time to get away and to return to places where we have been formed and reformed spiritually. I notice that when members of the congregation go to their favorite places, they almost always return a bit more upbeat and alive than they were when they left.
This statement applies to ministers, too. At least to this one, who has just returned from Chautauqua, where I have spent at least one week every summer since 2004.
You may remember that when I introduced myself to the congregation before you voted to call me as your third installed Pastor, I explained how important Chautauqua is to me and that I hoped to be able to go there more than one week per summer since my daughter serves on the Presbyterian House’s college staff there now. I am grateful that you are fulfilling this promise to me and that I will be able to return to Chautauqua as early as next month.
In the PC(USA), standard time-off for ministers is four weeks of vacation (including Sundays) and two weeks of study-leave (also including Sundays). In the Presbytery of Carlisle, time-off also includes one day for spiritual renewal per quarter.
At one point in my life, I did not take much time off. I guess, on some level, I felt that I had something to prove and/or was afraid of being judged for unplugging long enough to be recharged. I would encourage other people to take care of themselves, but I did not do enough to care for myself (and not practicing what one preaches is not a good look for anybody, especially a minister).
The first summer that I went to Chautauqua, I had just assumed full-custody of my then then five-year-old daughter. I was filled with self-doubt about my parenting ability (what’s a Dad to do with a little girl’s hair?). By the end of that week, I felt much better about my prospects. Now, when I go, I not only reflect on the future before me, I also give thanks for the past through which God has formed and reformed me.
I hope that everybody has a place that he or she goes on a regular basis, a place that affords them opportunities to reflect on where they have been, where they are going and how they have changed since the last time that they were there.
For me personally, spiritual renewal includes all of Chautauqua’s pillars: worship, education, recreation and the arts. At Chautauqua, the line between the sacred and the secular is thin, which works for me given that at the center of my faith tradition is the belief that God becomes flesh and dwells among us.
This past week’s theme at Chautauqua was American identity, what it is and how it is evolving. What are (in)appropriate expressions of patriotism? When does one’s faith bump up against his or her American identity? What do faithful responses in light of such friction look like?
One of the features of life at Chautauqua that I appreciated most this past week is that all parties operate from the same set of facts (not just the ones provided by their favorite news channels). When people operate from the same set of facts, constructive conversations and plans of action come together.
Rather than allow participants to self-select into echo chambers where one hears only his or her point view, Chautauqua offers a wide variety of perspectives from the ones of conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks to liberal New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb. With multiple perspectives before us, participants are equipped to address subjects that affect us all.
I wish that more congregations were more like Chautauqua. I wish that more churches sought to bring people together rather than deepen the divisions in the church and the country. By being there for one week, I was reminded that Christian unity is possible (in fact, it is God’s plan for the church) and that America may truly be united without most people having to compromise that which is most important to them.
In this hope, I find a glimpse of God’s grace, mercy and peace in Jesus Christ. In this hope, I find spiritual renewal.