Sunday, August 15, 2010

Study Leave, 2010


Like Garrison Keillor's Pastor Inqvist, I've spoken about the importance of leave- taking in many of these posts. In 2010, it was time for me to walk the talk. Clergy persons need to be creative. There are few prepackaged opportunities for time away for personal, spiritual, and vocational renewal. And while both the D. Min. or a Spiritual Direction program can be renewing experiences, spiritual renewal is the by-product of such courses, not the purpose.

My goal of reading, prayer, study, and rest fit best into a few weeks' of study leave. Within about a month of the start of the time away, shaping up to be two weeks of reflection and discernment of "what's next," I was asked to lead our church's older adult ministry, and continue with existing responsibilities. So the new ministry actually delayed as well as re-framed my time away. The following is a narrative account of what actually happened while omitting some of the plans that changed.

A Spiritual Director from the Houston Cenacle and Dr. Elaine Heath, a faculty member of Perkins School of Theology acted as resource persons for this study leave. I am deeply appreciative of their time and availability. The emphasis for the time became more reading, study, and prayer while in Dallas and retreating at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston. Although scaled back some, I managed to visit two very different Christian communities at worship, and interview their leaders.

Reading, Study, and Prayer

I've been in the habit of reading and reviewing new releases. That's why, in part, I chose The Resurrection of Ministry by Andrew Purves and The Radical Disciple by John Stott. In addition, I read A Letter to the Soul Jesus Loves, a spiritual classic by John of Landsburg. Finally, reading Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life in its entirety called me to the deepest reflection and prayer. I will draw upon the well of his wonderful spiritual direction for years.

As part of the focus for the time away, I met with Dr. Elaine Heath of Perkins School of Theology. When I read two of Elaine Heath's books, The Mystic Way of Evangelism and Longing for Spring, my curiosity to know more about NEW DAY in Dallas led me to seek her out for the direction of the sabbath time. NEW DAY is a network of United Methodist communities in the monastic tradition.

New Day and Lakewood Experiences

NEW DAY has about seven neighborhood or house churches in various stages of birth throughout the Metroplex. Like popcorn in its organic-like emergence, each community is based on a monastic-like "rule," a clear covenant to live out the gospel life in solidarity with and in service to the immediate neighborhood. and community. A newly formed foundation is responsible for purchasing and maintenance of each property. Community members include seminarians, or older undergraduate students. They're learning how to pastor this kind of house-church network. Some actually serve their intern year of seminary leading one of the NEW DAY communities. The seminarians receive rent for their agreement to live under a rule of life.

"Anchor" churches are other United Methodist Churches in the Metroplex which agree to assist a NEW DAY community in their ministry, a symbiotic relationship where each congregation respects the integrity of the NEW DAY mission. Financial independence, a goal that many larger churches have for the congregations they birth, is not the goal of this relationship. The NEW DAY experience suggests that they will always need their anchor churches. Thus, bottom line is not creating a financial unit or apportionment -paying entity, or even adding a slot on the conference ladder, since all NEW DAY leadership is bi-vocational and all groups meet in borrowed space.

The objective of NEW DAY is to offer to the UMC seminary graduates who are equipped with the vision and who are dedicated to leading intentional Christian community. Worship consists of sharing simple meal, singing, thanksgiving, praying for each other and the world, a homily or message, and Holy Communion. The gathering I visited at the SMU Wesley Foundation was made up of Perkins former or continuing students (Anglo and African), faculty, African immigrants, and family members and friends. The language used was Swahili and the message was translated into English. They were in summer-mode, with the attendance down to about 50% instead of the normal of 45-50.

Besides the opportunity to really delve into some new releases and spiritual classics, I found the NEW DAY experience refreshing. Most of my experience in the traditional church has used all variations of the top down model. But that is not the only way of growth that the Holy Spirit uses or that we can employ. I also visited Lakewood Church in Houston, and visited with Joel Osteen.

Mary and I sat in the "upper deck" where there was plenty of room. I especially liked the mid service Gospel pieces and being served Holy Communion in my seat. Fathers were recognized and prayed for (after all it was Father's day). Pastor Nick (he looked like a surfer) introduced the new youth and young adult gathering starting that evening. Joel spoke about their upcoming VBS, an evening affair, while the camera panned on the children's pastor and his wife. Joel's message was on running your own race. Use and develop your gifts and free yourself from harmful comparisons. I noticed that "healing," "deliverance," and "restoration," and being "set free" all were used frequently throughout the service.

The hardest part of my first Lakewood visit was the getting parked and into a seat. Greeters seemed to serve as ushers at each section. They were neither overly friendly nor aloof, but seemed to go about their ministry with the goal of getting you into your seat without delay for the main show. I will say that the post service hospitality was excellent. Joel invited newcomers to a class, a series that was starting after the service. The location of the class was easy to find and very close to the worship center. There was a place to meet Joel. Folks were available to answer your questions too.


In the end, I'm extremely grateful to Chapelwood, especially my colleagues and supervisors on the staff, Bob Johnson and Jim Jackson, and the Staff Pastor Parish Relations Committee, for the opportunity to take this study leave. As a result, I enter this new sphere of ministry with a deepened sense of spiritual well-being and vision for ministry to others.

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