This week, if you go to Community Christian Church, I will not be there. Without a doubt, some will ask: where is the pastor?
Whenever a minister takes time away from the church, this question is asked.
It’s because, as a church, we do life together. We are there for one another during hospital stays, journeys through grief, new births, preparation for weddings, daily wrestlings, and life’s joys.
For the first time, I will be away from the church for multiple days in a row.
But I’m not on a vacation this week. Instead, I am in Dallas, Texas with a group called the Bethany Fellows.
In the New Testament, Bethany was a place for the sick and the poor in spirit to go for refuge.
It was on the holy ground of Bethany that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
It was in the warm, compassionate place of Bethany where Mary anointed Jesus with oil.
In the week after Palm Sunday before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed, broke bread with friends, and prepared for his greatest hardship in the safety of Bethany.
This week, along with 30 other young ministers, I am spending time in my own Bethany.
I am part of a fellowship program that allows ministers to find a place of refuge twice a year in their first 5 years of ministry.
On each of these retreats, I stay in a monastery. I meet with my ministry mentor for spiritual direction. I travel to thriving churches to workshop with their pastors. I study best practices and most successful initiatives in these churches so that I can bring them back to CCC. I meet in a small group with other ministers to discuss what we are doing in our local congregations.
Most importantly, we spend 24 hours in silence in the middle of the week. This is an opportunity for us to encounter God, to realign ourselves with our own spiritual health, and to gain endurance for the long road of vocational ministry.
These retreats are fully funded by a Lilly foundation grant. The only cost for us is our travel to and from the city where we will be in retreat.
So, I invite your prayers this week as I go to that place of Bethany. This holy sanctuary of healing, refuge, and prayer strengthens my soul. And while I am away, I will certainly be praying for all of you: my beloved church family, my friends, and the witnesses of my ministry.
To learn more about the Bethany Fellows, check out: http://www.bethanyfellows.org
Note: photograph taken from http://www.montserratretreat.org