Fuel for the Journey of Ministry

hand holding lit candle with other lit candles in the room

The pastor refuses to impose her own mind.
Instead, she honors the minds of her people.
She treats all within the parish
as lovable and trustworthy,
even when they are not.
This makes her difficult to understand.
People wait for her to lead.
Instead, she waits for them to know
the voice within their own soul
which will lead them perfectly.

~ William C. Martin
“The Art of Pastoring”

I was only a few years into parish ministry when I heard about Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership program. After some prayer and pondering to discern my path to enroll in the program, I knew the timing was good. I was at the point in parish ministry where I realized that mountaintop experiences meant that there would also be time spent in the valleys. I was eager for some more skills to keep me fueled for the journey of ministry.

There are three components to Shalem’s Clergy program, all of which were incredibly helpful: clergy residencies, a peer group, and a lay listening group I formed back in my congregation. I will never forget meeting folks at the first residency, who were fellow travelers on life’s spiritual journey. We truly were embarking on a journey together – supporting each other and learning to lean back into the arms of the Divine. I left the first residency feeling so rested, loved, and supported. I was already dreaming of the second residency! I imagined that being reunited with this fabulous group would hold many more precious times and it did! The Clergy program felt like a cold glass of water on a hot day from the very beginning.

I looked forward to the monthly Skype calls with my peer group. We would laugh and cry together. We would talk about our ministry settings and share about our personal lives. The peer group was a safe place to talk about the joys and the pitfalls of ministry and how the laboratory for ministry was really going. Friendships developed! We got to know each other on such a deep personal level and we would pray for each other while apart. The peer group support was invaluable, and I still stay in contact today years later with some of the folks from my group.

My lay listening group at the church got to know me in a different way from the usual church committee. The lay listening group had no agenda, no minutes, and did not concern itself with church business. Our task was simply to gather and listen to the voice of the Creator. We also tried out different spiritual practices together. The lay listening group would gather often for a meal. Our meals together are some of my fondest memories. Sitting with that sweet group of people reminded me of communion! It was partaking of the body and the cup of belonging and blessing. The group gathered to listen with me and support me as I walked through the Clergy program.

I am so grateful for all that I learned while in Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership program. I realized more fully that the Divine goes before me and hems me in. I learned to wake up each new day open to the possibilities before me. When life’s hurdles come my way as they certainly have during the Covid pandemic, I can light a candle and watch the flame dance, aware that my center is anchored in the Divine. The program truly taught me to lead from within by listening to the still, small voice. After the completion of the Clergy program, I came back to the congregation more grounded and was a much more observant and adaptable leader. I also learned that caring for my own soul is paramount in pastoring a congregation. Learning to care for my own soul has certainly sustained me these past two years pastoring in such a unique time in our history.

I am looking forward to co-directing the program with a fellow graduate of the program. Julie and I met at that first residency, and I am overjoyed to pass along the gifts of this program that we were so generously given!

February 02, 2022 by Emily Kellar
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