For many pastors, caring for the myriad needs of a congregation can leave little space for rest and renewal. Even family time can be sacrificed, despite the best of intentions.
“To be in service to others, we need opportunities to step away for reflection and learning,” says the Rev. Brad Thie, director of the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative at Duke Divinity School. “But when life is hectic, it’s hard to carve those moments into our daily routine.”
Since 2004, The Duke Endowment has sponsored a three-day summer retreat that brings together clergy from rural United Methodist churches in North Carolina. Called the Convocation on the Rural Church, the event at Myrtle Beach, S.C., features special programming and worship. The Endowment helps plan each year’s schedule with Duke Divinity School, and makes it more affordable for participants.
The Convocation is restorative in more ways than one.
“As pastor of a small church, I’m pretty much ‘on’ every day,” said one participant. “This helps me return to my congregation feeling uplifted and rejuvenated. And it’s nice to be with people who have the same issues and challenges.”
More than 180 pastors attended the 2015 Convocation, and many brought spouses and children to the family-friendly gathering. The agenda included worship services, lectures and small group discussions.
The theme, “Living Into Community,” centered on a book by plenary speaker Christine Pohl, a professor of Christian Social Ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Pohl spoke on the importance of cultivating four practices – expressing gratitude, making and keeping promises, living truthfully, and offering hospitality – to sustain community. Workshops covered stewardship, multicultural ministry and using music in services.
Over meals, participants swapped news about families and friends, but also shared ideas for visiting hospital patients or keeping volunteers engaged. Each day included a chance to relax by the pool or walk on the beach.
The goal of Convocation is to support rural pastors as they serve their congregations. Rural houses of worship can play a pivotal role helping communities find new opportunities for outreach. But far away from relatives or colleagues, rural clergy can feel isolated. They often struggle to find resources for their ministry. They might hit roadblocks when introducing change in places tied to tradition.
“During Convocation, pastors can reconnect with clergy friends and learn from each other about what it means to serve a rural church,” says Robb Webb, director of the Endowment’s Rural Church program area. “Away from home for a few days, they can discuss issues that are important to their work, and enjoy a rare opportunity for free time and fellowship.”
Robert R. Webb III
Director of Rural Church