This past week has afforded me two distinct and meaningful opportunities to gather with fellow pastors to talk, pray, plan, and listen to the movement of the Spirit of God all around us.
The first was on Monday, where some thirty or more pastors were welcomed by the open hospitality of Union Baptist Church. We were called together by our colleagues, Bishop Walter Mack, pastor of Union Baptist, and Dr. Peter Barnes, pastor of First Presbyterian. Bishop Mack and Dr. Barnes have forged a beautiful friendship in these past few years, one where they speak honestly and vulnerably about race. Together with a handful of others, including the good folks of Love Out Loud, Bishop Mack and Dr. Barnes have been leaders in our community’s engagement with racial justice this year, partly through the Union musical back in February and its related events, but mostly through the slow and steady work of relationship-building across racial lines. They convened a group of us, black and white together, with a conversation about the name of the Dixie Classic Fair. We prayed and planned for our shared witness as followers of Jesus to the radical inclusion of the kingdom of God. It was a gathering of warmth and welcome, and I am grateful for the seeds that were planted!
The second is where I am as I write to you, nestled in the woods in the cabin we return to each year, these dear friends of mine, for what we affectionately call ‘preacher camp.’ For a handful of days, we get away to do some sermon-planning (leaving with a year’s worth of material!), story-sharing, wisdom-exchanging, and the deep gladness that has only grown each year from our friendship and collegiality in this work. We have found such resonance in the great Carlisle Marney image of “friends of the long road.” It’s been our commitment to be that for each other, and ‘preacher camp’ is but one way we nurture it each year.
This past year, our cohort received a grant through Austin Theological Seminary for dollars to spend on our gatherings. Over the coming year, this grant will translate into two brief trips — one for the six of us to talk about Christian leadership with each other and some mentors in ministry, and one for our families (all 27 of us — spouses, kids, and all!) to spend focused time with each other. As we wrote in the grant application: “We are drawn together by a common pursuit of quality, sustainability, and health over the course of a long-term pastoral ministry, as well as a common belief that faithful friendship with one another is among our greatest resources in meeting this need. As the beloved poet, Wendell Berry, has written, “What we need is here” (from his poem, “The Wild Geese”). We trust that vital resources of challenge and support are available within our cohort. At this stage in our ministry careers, we reach for the shared wisdom and transformation that comes through listening to each other, learning from one another, and challenging one another in a trusted cohort of learning and friendship.”
Immeasurably, these fellow travelers on a journey help me fashion the net and strengthen my muscles for the deep-water casting of daily ministry. They are among my most trusted friends, thoughtful teachers, and beloved pastors. I give thanks for you, dear church, for your wisdom in creating the space for ministers like me to nurture time away for study and sacred friendship!
Together in the work of Love,