Read an Excerpt
A Spiritual & Practical Guide Through the Search Process
By Elizabeth Rankin Geitz
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2007 Elizabeth Rankin Geitz
All rights reserved.
BEGINNING THE JOURNEY
Gifts for Transition
If you are holding this book in your hands, most likely you are on the vestry, Self-Study Committee, or Discernment Committee of a congregation undergoing a change in clergy leadership. The future is a question mark, uncertainty looms, and you know that somehow you are in the role of giving shape and voice to that uncertainty, through the calling of your next rector or vicar—an awesome responsibility, one that will lay heavily on you at times, challenge you at others, and fill you with joy at still others.
You are beginning a new phase of your spiritual journey, a journey to which you have been called. The people in your congregation have seen something in you, some gift of the Holy Spirit, which has led them to either elect or appoint you to a special role in your church's Discernment Process. As others have discerned the needed gifts in you, you are now called to discern the gifts needed in the next priest who will lead your congregation or to discern which candidate best embodies those gifts.
As you begin this journey, it is helpful to be aware of your own particular gifts of the Spirit as well as of the reality that you are called to use those gifts during a time of transition, for your congregation and for yourself. How you personally deal with transition will necessarily affect your role in the Discernment Process. So first, let's talk a bit about transitions.
Simply living, being, and moving through the life cycle forces us into one transition after another. Just think of all the transitions you have been through. Transitions from home to nursery school, into the upper grades, then leaving home for college or a job. Transitions in changing jobs, moving from one community to another, saying goodbye to friends and familiar places, joining new churches. Transitions of getting married or partnered, children growing up and leaving home, losing loved ones to death, facing unexpected illness—and the list goes on.
As you begin this significant new role in the life of your parish, you may want to begin by reflecting on some of the transitions you have experienced. What were they? How did they affect you? What was it like for you and for those who love you? Were any of your transition periods accompanied by great emotionality? If so, how did you deal with it? Did your faith play a role? Your prayer life?
Knowing your own transition patterns will be helpful to you as you assume a leadership role during this time of transition in the life of your congregation. If you are not clear about your patterns or the role transition has previously played in your life, you might want to discuss this with another member of your committee, a trusted friend, a priest, or a spiritual director. Journaling can also be helpful in uncovering those feelings that may not be readily accessible to you. Whatever method works best for you, self-awareness of how you personally respond during times of uncertainty or loss will stand you in good stead as you begin this new phase of your spiritual journey.
If you are currently experiencing a major transition in your own life, you may want to discuss this with your priest, a trusted friend, or an advisor. Where are you in that process? Is it a particularly emotional one for you right now? If so, you may want to reevaluate your role in this process. How you feel about one transition in your life will affect how you feel and react to the ups and downs of the Discernment Process. It is important to focus on self-care and it begins now, so if this is not the right time for you to be engaged in this ministry, do not hesitate to say so at the beginning.
As I write this chapter it is the season after Pentecost, a time when we Christians focus on the Holy Spirit and all the many manifestations of her gifts and grace. For many people, both in the sacred and secular worlds, the early months of the season after Pentecost are a time of beginnings and endings. Traditionally, it is a time for graduation ceremonies and weddings, in which we both celebrate and let go of a life we have known and loved for many years. It is a time in which we might feel a sense of accomplishment and completion for what has gone before, along with butterflies in our stomach for what is yet to be. It is a time of letting go of the familiar when we cannot fully embrace the new because we have not yet experienced it. The new tomorrow that awaits us is fuzzy and filled with questions, because all the pieces are not yet in place.
My husband Michael and I are preparing to take our youngest child, Mike, to college next month. I know that things will never quite be the same again. I know that our family unit on a day-to-day basis will now be two rather than three. But I am also aware that I don't really know what this will mean for us as a couple, because we haven't experienced it yet. As a result, there is part of me that hasn't accepted, much less embraced, this new reality.
I realized this last week when Mike was staying over at a friend's house one night. As we turned out the downstairs lights, I reminded my husband to be sure to leave the outside light on for Mike when he came home. Then it hit me. He's not coming home tonight and in another month, he won't be coming home for months at a time. He'll be away at college. And I had my first jolt of reality about his leaving.
Our psyches have a way of protecting us in situations involving loss—whether it's the death of a loved one, or something very happy and exciting like a loved one leaving for college or entering a well-deserved retirement or accepting a new call. Our psyches protect us by letting the reality seep gradually into our souls. In all the grief situations I have been involved in either personally or with others, I don't believe there is one where the new reality hit full-force all at once. There has always been some denial going on simultaneously with the gradual acceptance and understanding of what the loss really means.
Just as children are meant to move on to college or a job some day, so priests are meant to answer another call or retire. It is part of the rhythm and movement of life and I believe that it is particularly part of the rhythm and movement of the Christian life. Why? Because in the final analysis, for all of us, whatever our situation, there is only one being who is eternal and permanent, and that is God. It is only God who is with us always to the close of the age and into eternity. It is only God who ultimately can fill that aching longing we have for the holy. It is only God who never leaves us, even for a moment.
Several years ago I was privileged to be the keynote speaker in the Diocese of Arkansas for a yearly event called the Women's Institute. It was held in a camp on the side of a mountain overlooking the most beautiful valley and mountains I have ever seen. In fact the "stained glass window" behind the altar, with a cross in the middle of it, was actually clear glass with a view of the incredible scope of God's creation.
On Saturday night it is their tradition to host an event called Cabin Fun, filled with imaginative and funny skits. One woman's skit was just to stand up and tell a story by herself. Like all good stories it began, "Once upon a time...." She then told the story of two little boys who were constantly in trouble at school and with their parents. They were brothers two years apart. They weren't delinquents; they were just full of mischief and liked to pull a lot of pranks that continually kept them in the principal's office. Finally, after a prank that went a little too far, in desperation their parents sent them to talk to their parish priest. They decided to send them in separately—the old divide-and-conquer routine—and they sent the youngest boy, who was around seven, in first.
The rector looked at him and said, "John, where is God?" John sat there in silence. So the rector raised his voice a little and said, "John, where is God?" The child sat there in stony silence. Finally, exasperated, the priest bellowed out, "Where is God?" The little boy's eyes got real big and suddenly he bolted out of the room.
He ran all the way home and immediately went upstairs and hid in his closet. His brother had been waiting for him to get home and ran after him upstairs, concerned that things had really gone wrong. "What happened, John? What'd that priest do to you?"
"Nothing yet," he said, shaking and trembling, "but they've lost God and they think we had something to do with it."
The good news is that God does not get lost, or graduate, or retire, or move. God has been in your church since before your church was conceived and God will be there until after the last bell has rung, if in fact that ever occurs. God is our alpha and omega, our beginning and our end. Focusing on the permanence of God throughout your Discernment Process for a new rector or vicar will ground you, the vestry or committee on which you serve, and the members of your congregation.
It is my prayer that this book will help you do just that. Let the journey begin!
Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, you have been with me throughout all the transitions of my life. Be with me now as I seek to serve you by serving my congregation during our search for a priest to lead us. Help me to look honestly and without fear at other times of transition in my life and to deal with any unresolved issues related to them. Strengthen my desire to pray daily and my commitment to the task that lies ahead; in the name of the Source, the Word, and the Spirit Amen.
Discerning Your Gifts Retreat
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.... (1 Cor. 12:4–5)
One of the most important aspects of the Discernment Process is the interaction between the vestry, the Self-Study Committee, and the Discernment Committee. When this relationship is healthy, open, and trusting the process can be seamless and life-giving to those involved. When it is not, frustration and burnout can occur, leading some people to question why they ever agreed to serve. In such circumstances, I have seen parishioners tender their resignation from the vestry or committee in the middle of the process. I have seen wardens and committee chairs resign. Such an outcome can be devastating and can derail the Discernment Process, which multiplies the sense of frustration, spreading it throughout the congregation.
A Discerning Your Gifts Retreat for vestry, Self-Study Committee, and Discernment Committee members together, at the very beginning of the Discernment Process, can establish a spiritual tone for all that is to follow, build a sense of teamwork among these three critical groups, and help members become aware of their own spiritual gifts as well as the gifts of those with whom they will be working. It can replace the annual vestry retreat to be sensitive to vestry members' time commitments. It can be held overnight in a retreat center, if money permits, or as a Friday night/Saturday retreat in a nearby church with participants sleeping at home. However you schedule it, the retreat should not be held in your own church facility. It is best to get away from all distractions and to view this as a sacred time apart from the normal routine of church work.
The Discerning Your Gifts Retreat included in this chapter can be led by anyone who is an experienced retreat or workshop leader—lay and clergy alike. Everything needed to lead it is here in the three sessions that follow. In Session 1, an additional two facilitators will be needed.
Session 1 REKINDLING YOUR LIGHT
MATERIALS NEEDED Nametags, whiteboard and markers, meditative music, CD player, individual candles with drip holders for each participant, matches, "This Little Light of Mine" (160 or 221 in Lift Every Voice and Sing II)
HANDOUTS Scripture Passages about Community
QUOTATION "You are the light of the world." (Matt. 5:14)
1. Seat participants in groups of eight to ten, with a facilitator for each group. Each group should have its own whiteboard and marker.
2. The retreat leader gives the following talk or something similar to everyone:
Each one of you here has been chosen—chosen to lead your congregation during the time of transition known as the Discernment Process. And you have said yes. You have stepped up and answered this call, not knowing exactly how much work it will entail or where the journey ultimately will lead you or your parish. You may be wondering, "Why me? What gifts do I bring?" Or if you're being honest, you may be thinking, "Why is she/he involved in this effort? What can that person contribute?" Or, "So-and-so drives me crazy. How can I work productively with him/her?" Right now, just know that there is a reason every one of you is here and that all the gifts needed are in this room.
"This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine." In the words of this familiar song lies a great truth, yet one that eludes many people throughout their life. Many people truly don't believe they have a light to shine. They look about them and feel that somehow their talents don't measure up, aren't worthy, aren't needed. So they keep their light to themselves, truly believing they have nothing to give.
Yet in Matthew's gospel Jesus tells each one of us, "You are the light of the world" (5:14). Here Jesus is not speaking only to some who have been given special gifts or talents, but to everyone.
What can we do if "this little light of mine" seems shrouded in darkness? First of all, we can remember that the light was never ours to begin with, but God's. In John's gospel Jesus tells us, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (8:12). Jesus is the light and can become our light when we acknowledge the One who dwells within each one of us. The light that shines within us and outside us is the light of Christ given to us at baptism.
What has happened to the light given to you at baptism? Has it flourished and grown brighter over the years in service to Christ? Has it all but disappeared, because you've forgotten it's there? Or is it a combination of the two? Sometimes you're a gleaming beacon of light for all to see and at other times you can't decide what light you have or where it's supposed to shine? Or, has your light burned out?
To be beacons of light in a world filled with darkness, we need to nurture and focus on the light within us. This retreat gives all of us a wonderful opportunity to focus on the special gifts God has given to us and to each other—gifts you have been given not only to complete your church's Discernment Process but to grow spiritually through it. This weekend we are all going to help one another discover the many lights, the many gifts that each one of us has within us, just waiting to be uncovered. As we focus on that light and discover new ways to share that light with others, we can come alive in Christ, not only as individuals, but also as a church. And we will realize that all the gifts needed for a productive Discernment Process are right here in this room.
To begin to look at the light that was given us at baptism, I'd like to talk for a moment about the meaning of baptism. The Book of Common Prayer tells us that "Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble" (BCP 298). So this covenant we have made with God is eternal. There's nothing we can do to get out of it. If we're baptized, we're baptized, and that's it. And in our baptism, we have all been made ministers. We are all ministers—and what is ministry? It's a whole new way of being, not just a way of doing.
To go into the ministry is not to be ordained, but to be baptized. Who are the ministers of your church? You are! Yes, you have clergy who serve your congregation, but you are the ministers. Throughout much of its history, the church has denied this scope of vocation to ministry and given higher credence and respect to clergy vocations. Today this church tradition is being guided back to an awareness of the breadth of vocation to ministry, notably in terms of its expression by the laity.
You all may have heard clergy saying they want to "empower the laity." But of this concept Stewart Zabriskie writes in his book Total Ministry, "I see this whole notion of 'empowering the laity' as being condescending to those who have been unable to do anything all along, which is far from the case. That same mindset has also retranslated the word lay to divert its roots in laos to a secondary and more popular sense of 'inexpert.'" He goes on to say that an essential part of understanding total ministry is to listen to those who are already ministering as Christ's body. "Listening is more important than devising systems to 'empower' the laity, those who are already expressing the Spirit's power." Right now, I'd like us all to listen to ourselves and to each other in our small groups. (Break into small groups at this time, and play appropriate music to help people get comfortable.)
Excerpted from Calling Clergy by Elizabeth Rankin Geitz. Copyright © 2007 by Elizabeth Rankin Geitz. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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