I’ve just come back from a week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. It’s an amazing place. The property covers most of the western shore of Chautauqua Lake, and people can sail and swim. But that’s just the beginning. The institution began in 1874 as a Methodist center for study and recreation. It now houses a Department of Religion that hosts speakers and programs; a complex of dance, theater, orchestra, and voice training and production that leads many students to major performance venues; and programs of general interest. Each week of their 9-week summer season is organized around a theme, and speakers are brought in for each day. They also have a chaplain for the week, who preaches at morning worship every day. I went through their New Clergy Program, which aims to help clergy in their first seven years of ordained ministry reflect on their ministry and give them resources for growth. We went to the programmed speakers, and then had time together to reflect and to learn from each other.
The theme for my week was “Women Transcending Boundaries.” We heard from leaders of international training and aid programs working in Africa and Asia; from experts on the impact on women of terrorism and war; from Dr. Hawa Abdi, a Somali doctor who with her two doctor daughters has founded a refugee hospital that serves 100,000 people; from Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s campaign manager. We met women from all over the world, of all three Abrahamic faiths, who are doing remarkable things to heal the world.
How is this supposed to help me in my ministry with you? First, these women inspired me to do my best, to work harder for the healing of the world. I was inspired, too, by the people who make these programs possible. The staff are remarkable, with life-long histories of church work and social justice ministries. The donors who fund the programs are devoted to Chautauqua and to dialogue and life-long learning. They reminded me to be mindful of how I spend my resources.
Just as important as these speakers and supporters were my clergy colleagues. We had lots of time to talk, to share resources and ideas. It’s a model for what we can all do right here. I came back reminded of the need to gather regularly and informally to let new seeds develop. I see this same truth whenever I sit with a few of you and ideas start pouring out of us. Something magical happens when we sit together.
I believe that we will not find new life if our time together is limited to Sunday morning. The church of the 21st century has to be more than a one-day destination stop; it has to be a community. I’m looking for answers and ideas here. Please join me in that search, and let me know your ideas. It might be Saturday afternoon open house. It might be Friday night potlucks. It might be Wednesday morning coffee. If you want it enough to work on it, let me know.
We are called to love God, love one another, and serve the world. Together, we will see new potential for how to do that in this place.
God bless you this week, in your life and in your ministry. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.