Updated: Mar 26
I suspect I’m not the only person who participated in this year’s Bay Retreat who woke up this morning with music running through my head. “We are in fact in the act of worship” and “Get on your marks, get set, go” have been alternating as the music for my day.
One of the potentially game-changing, ministry-altering experiences of this retreat was a by-product of the content (which was fantastic), the worship (which was uplifting), and the games we played (which had us laughing together). Through it all, we experienced again and again the joy and affirmation of cheering each other on.
We started off by yelling, “That’s awesome!” As each person introduced themselves and shared one true thing, they were greeted with a wall of affirmation and joy, “That’s awesome!” When we learned the theme song written especially for our retreat, the room broke into applause and shouts of “amen!” When we wrote cheers illustrating the joyful marks of vitality that we excel at, and then performed those cheers in front of the whole gathering, we shouted encouragement and cheered each other on.
And during our evening of improv, people kept saying “yes” to the risk of volunteering, going to the stage, and participating in improvisational comedy. None of us are trained in this, most of us had never done anything like it! But for almost an hour and a half, we shouted encouragement and cheered each other on, laughing and celebrating no matter what.
This is the thought that struck me: what if we brought this joy and possibility, this encouragement and affirmation, this courage and vulnerability into our churches?
Sit with that for a moment. What if the spirit we experienced at the Bay Retreat this year was the spirit we nurtured in worship, in session meetings, in finance meetings, in pastoral visits, in Christian education, in all of our mission and ministry.
“Wait a minute," you may be saying, “you’re talking about shouting and laughing and cheering… that’s not appropriate for church! That’s not how you visit someone in the hospital or talk about difficult subjects!”
On the one hand, you’re right; shouting affirmations at one another would be a raucous way to go through life. But we can certainly go through life, through the hard times and joyful times, through conflict and celebration, with a spirit of encouragement and openness.
We can shift from being critical to being curious, from being unwilling to allowing new possibilities. We can shift from a mindset that creates winners and losers to a heart-set that desires joy and thriving for everyone. And even in the midst of disagreements and challenges with no clear way forward, we can keep reminding one another that working together and encouraging one another will get us a lot farther than picking sides and building walls.
We had over thirty congregations in the Presbytery represented in one way or another at the Bay Retreat. For those who weren’t able to find someone able to participate, Tracy and I would be more than happy to find a time to share with you a taste of the goodness of God we experienced. This is something worth sharing again and again and again.
Here’s my hope and my prayer: that this will mark a shift in our life together in New Castle Presbytery and in our mission and ministry. If we hold on to this one thing, and remember to cheer each other on even when we fail, and to celebrate with abandon the simple act of trying, we will have taken a massive step in the direction God is calling us.
Get on your marks, get set, go! And when you do, God’ll let you know where you’re going. On your marks, get set, go! Just plant a seed and trust in God to do the growing!