This week, our pastoral staff slipped away from the office for two days of retreat at the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, about 45 minutes away from here. The center itself was so lovely, each brick and beam on the grounds carefully chosen for all people to encounter God in the quiet and contemplation.

And the time we spent together was rich and full of life! I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Stoneville, but it was a place that truly invited us to unplug for two days! With very limited cell service and no wireless internet, we entered into a different kind of working space, one that isn’t easily replicated in the day-to-day work at 501 West Fifth. I have recently begun reading a book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, and like the title suggests, these days away were the equivalent of “deep work.” Without the regular, round-the-clock dings and emails and calls and notifications that we commonly experience in the course of a hyper-connected, modern work day, we were able to do the kind of “important but not urgent” work that you need us to do: thinking about the church’s systems of committees, teams, and leadership, dreaming about ways to connect members to small groups and Sunday School classes, developing strategies for outreach and meaningful communication to the community, talking about how we offer care for one another, and working on big picture items in worship, missions, age-graded ministries, administration, and preaching.

Over meals and at night, we held deep conversation and story-sharing, all laced with laughter. One of my stated goals for the retreat was to enter as a team of three and emerge a team of four, and I have no doubt that we did so. What a joy it is to have John Thornton join our team!

Lastly, we also spent time in prayer and reflection, holding you – our beloved community – before God as we remember and give thanks for you! We feel the same spirit that so many of you have named to us: that God is at work in our midst doing “a new thing,” and we are honored to serve together with one another and with you, dear church, for such a time as this.

I know I don’t have to tell you this, but Amy, David, and John are some of the finest ministers I know, and we all are immensely lucky to share in the blessing of their ministries they each so freely give. They are creative, dynamic, interested, focused, loving, loyal, and faithful, and it is such a joy to pastor with them! For the gifts of God revealed in a binding together of pastors and church for the work of ministry, I say thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift!

Together in the work of Love,

Pastor Emily

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