I spent last week at a clergy writing workshop, along with eleven other participants and a leader. It was an amazing gift to spend considerable time away from the usual routine of work and family and to engage in all aspects of the writing process, with others who are also writers—and pastors too. And, to do so in a beautiful location (with the bonus of great weather), at a conference center that provided excellent food and drink.
The week offered an opportunity to reflect on my writing, especially this blog. As a group, we explored new and different forms of writing, like flash fiction and Twitterature. We shared fiction, blog posts, memoir, poetry, prayers, and liturgy. We wrote from the familiar and comfortable, as well as reaching out into the strange and new.
I spent time reflecting on why I post to this blog almost every week: to say things I don’t quite have the courage to say in a church gathering; to wrestle with issues that don’t easily fit into clergy-type gatherings; to put “on paper” my hopes and deep concerns for the church, as well as my pastoral leadership in the parish and beyond; and to wonder about the church and its particular local setting in the 21st century.
During the week, I stepped back as well as forward, reviewing what I have done and pondering what might be next. The group spoke deeply and creatively about writing and the process of writing. Each of us also took that bold step of handing over a piece of precious writing and asking for honest feedback—actual, honest feedback—in a gathering of the entire group. Each of us, after presenting a piece, sat in silence for a full ten minutes while the other members of the group offered positive comments and constructive criticisms. I wasn’t sure that I would get through my first experience at this exercise, but found it to be very helpful, and even enjoyable.
One of the most powerful gifts of the week was the reminder of the significance of writing, that it’s not something that one should tuck into those rare moments of “free time.” Writing is important and valuable to the work of the pastor, for those pastors who feel called to write.
A deep and abiding thank you to the writers with whom I worked, played, created, worshiped, and laughed. Thank you especially for your writing, your commitment to the wonder and power of words, and your willingness to be vulnerable, to share of yourselves and to be good listeners as well as talkers. The week was filled with beautiful words, inspiring grammar, surprisingly animated punctuation, and certainly, the presence of God. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to the writers: Heather, Jessica, Shelly, Amy, Geordie, Andrea, Cleo, Tim, Kelli, Betsy, Jane, and Maren.
A big thank you too to those who organized and financially supported the workshop: the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, the Lilly Endowment, and the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research.
p.s. Look Jane, no exclamation points!