By Sue Sprang
SYNOD – One of the nice things about the theological event for professional church leaders in which our synod participates every fall, is that it’s an opportunity for attendees to take advantage of as much or as little of the agenda as they desire. Another nice thing is that attendees are reminded they are part of a larger community.
Done in conjunction with the Northern Great Lakes and Southeast Michigan Synods in some configuration or other,* the annual event is a sort-of “pit stop” for pastors, lay church leaders, and spouses. In fact, one might call the meeting place (which, this year, was Mackinac Island), an “altar” – for it is there that participants gather with their peers in community, joined in being fed and revitalized for continued service and mission in Christ’s Church.
The method of revitalization differs for each person. Some take advantage of the speakers and workshops; for others, worship is the focus. Networking with others, rest, meditation or devotional time, reading, leisurely walks or jogging are examples of ways participants choose to help them wind down, center, and gain new energy for their everyday work.
How participants spend their time is not the point. The point is that what they choose to do is a catalyst for their own physical, emotional, and spiritual health – whatever it is that brings rest and renewal.
Although the reasons for coming to this year’s leadership retreat varied, being in community was one of the most popular. What follows are written comments about participants’ favorite part of the event. Most responded anonymously – but it’s their words that count.
“It was a relaxing time in a beautiful setting – and the fellowship was great.” – pastor
“I really appreciated the fellowship and connections with my fellow clergy.” – Pastor Gary Bunge
“Networking with other clergy spouses was my favorite part of the event. We could be ourselves and talk about anything.” – lay person
“[The best things were] time away, time with colleagues, time with friends.” – pastor
“It was real time for reflecting on what it means to be followers of Christ in 2015. Two places where that was the focus were Rachel Kurtz’s (event musician) workshop and the deans’ time with the Bishop and the Assistants to the Bishop.” – pastor
“My favorite things were relationships and my new hat!” – Pastor Miriam Bunge, who purchased a hat or two while on the island. (Miriam could wear a paper sack on her head and she’d look great!)
“I always look forward to the retreat. I can unwind and return to my congregation energized and renewed. It’s being with my colleagues that makes it what it is.” – pastor
“The retreat is about community and being connected. I feel sorry for pastors who play the “Lone Ranger”. They miss out on a lot by not being collegial – be they ELCA or otherwise.” – pastor
The sessions were great – as were the workshops I attended.” – lay person
“I was grateful for time with the Bishop and for his accessibility. He is a blessing to our synod.” – pastor
“Making connections, renewing old friendships, making new ones is always the number one thing for me.” – pastor
“I enjoyed being able to do what I wanted and not being judged for it. That was absolutely freeing. I read, napped, walked, networked, and enjoyed a few carriage rides. It was energizing – especially the people connections.” – lay person
“Events like this remind me that I’m not alone in this. I’m reminded that the church is a much wider place than my congregation.” – pastor
Just like local congregations or other points of ministry, this event is a microcosm of the larger Church – smaller communities within the context of a much larger one.
And even though each group has its own uniqueness and might not always agree, all are bound as one in the Christ’s Church and in mission, sharing energy and resources, leaning on each other for encouragement and support.
Community at its best – and pure joy!
*This year’s event included all three synods and was hosted by the Northern Great Lakes Synod.