Jimmy Weaver was in his mid-30s when he left a family farming business and enrolled at Duke Divinity School.
Now 57, Weaver has spent the past 20 years serving various churches in North Carolina. Along the way, he found that the Courage to Serve program gave him a much-needed opportunity for personal and professional renewal.
“I find the need for time away, for retreat time, is part of what’s necessary for me to stay whole and well-filled,” he says.
Courage to Serve is modeled on Courage to Teach, a retreat program created by educator and activist Parker Palmer and the Fetzer Institute to help renew and inspire public school teachers.
Weaver first participated in a Courage to Teach retreat in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2004. “I was really quite taken with the methodology and I could see it being a very fruitful thing, not only for me personally, which it was, but also something I wanted to know more about.”
After Duke Divinity School began offering Courage to Serve, Weaver became an early participant.
At Duke, the program brings together groups of 24 rural pastors for a 15-month course of quarterly retreats. Although some participants have entered the program with thoughts of leaving the ministry, Weaver says he simply believed that it was something he needed to do to continue the evolution of his spiritual life.
“You’re not there as a leader, you’re there as a participant,” he says. “It’s your job to show up and be about your own journey. And that’s the extent of why you’re there.”
At the end of each retreat, he felt refreshed and rejuvenated. “And reinvigorated, perhaps. I had more clarity about things… The point is to hear the teacher within yourself.”
He especially appreciates the program’s length, which allows time for significant growth and formation.
And although his participation ended in 2007, Weaver says the lessons learned through Courage to Serve have stayed with him, helping him become “a more complete person.”
“It’s a great program,” he says, “and I’d encourage others to do it.”
Robert R. Webb III
Director of Rural Church