This week I attended my first Diocese of California clergy conference, which served as the opportunity to make my first visit to Bishop’s Ranch. What a beautiful place!
Part of the substance of our gathering was a discussion of the book “Bury the Chains”, a book which Bishop Marc had called to our attention and asked us to read. Most of us had not found time to do that, of course, but we joined together in an interesting kind of collecive reading that was able to give us all a sense of the book’s content.
“Bury the Chains” tells the story of the effort to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. As we considered the book, we were asked to reflect on what the ups and downs of the abolition movement in Britain might teach us about social change movements in our own time.
I was particularly interested in one particular question, which asked us to consider what happens in a social change movement when it reaches a dry or stuck place, unable to move forward for the moment, needing to regather its energy and reconsider it’s strategy. One option at such moments for people of faith is to turn to God and one another in prayer and contemplation, awaiting the Spirit’s leading to indicate the way we should go in pursuing God’s dream of a more just world.
This dynamic of action in the world for justice, interrupted by periods of contemplative retreat, lies at the very heart of the gospels. Over and over again, we see Jesus retreating briefly from active ministry for prayer and contemplation, either by himself or with his close community of friends. It is a pattern that suggests to me two things: that Christian action to promote a more just world needs to be rooted in a deep connection to one’s own heart and the heart of God, and that active ministry needs to be grounded in prayer and contemplation if it is to remain fresh and energetic.
This, it seems to me, is true not only of Christian participation in movements of social change, but also of active ministry within the church. Can you imagine creating a plan in which church members are invited to engage in a time of prayer and contemplation to prepare for a period of activity in some parish ministry? And can you imagine, after a time in activity in some ministry, returning to a less active period of prayer and contemplation, to reflect and reevaluate? I wonder how such a model could reeneegize tired lay ministers? I wonder how such a model could raise up new leaders and participants in our ministries?
Serving the Gospel, whether within the church or in the larger community, should always be a spiritual experience, and should serve not to exhaust people, but to transform people’s hearts and spirits.
Such are the thoughts on my mind as I return from this time spent with the ordained community within our diocese.