In mid-January, I will be spending five days with a group of peers that serves as an incarnation of Christ in my life. This group began as a project funded by the Lilly Endowment which brought together 19 “young” (age 35 and under) pastors serving small membership churches to build a community for learning and mutual support. We came from six different denominations and traveled from around the country to a retreat center in the mountains of western North Carolina. The initial program included six gatherings over the course of two years but when it ended, our group had formed such a strong bond that we committed to continuing to meet together. We pool our study leave funds and other resources so that we can meet every 12-18 months in various retreat sites around the country, from Philadelphia to San Francisco and this year in Las Vegas. We invite guest speakers to teach us about various topics, from prayerful writing to improvisation techniques. This year’s theme is “Following Yonder Star” and will focus on seasons of light and darkness in our lives and ministries.
In the 11+ years since we first met, we have experienced many changes. While some of us are still pastors of congregations, others are now hospital chaplains or serve on staff for their denominations. Still others have left pastoral ministry and work in the non-profit sector, while two have earned doctoral degrees and teach religion in academic settings. All of us are now over age 35! But we continue to share knowledge and insights gained from our various ministry settings, sing and pray and discuss Scripture together, and accompany one another on our journeys of faith. Most importantly, this group serves as the body of Christ for one another, offering love and support and encouragement, laughing and crying and eating together.
Although we spend most of our time far apart, our group stays connected via email and a group Facebook page and occasional conference calls. In the early days, we had weekly online chats and then a group blog. All of these methods of communication allow us to ask questions of the group, such as “Has this particular situation ever occurred in your ministry? What did you do?” and to receive immediate feedback. In this way, the group has been an invaluable resource throughout my ministry. But nothing can replace our “incarnational” time, when we gather together in the flesh. The sound of all of our voices singing together fills me with joy and a sense of community that can’t be duplicated over computer or phone.
As we move through the season of Christmas and celebrate the gift of God taking on human flesh in order to live among us, I hope you are all able to experience your own version of the incarnation of Christ. May you feel God’s love in a hug from a friend or see God’s joy in the eyes of a child. And may we each seek to be the body of Christ for others.