At first I wasn’t sure how they all seemed to know who I was. I was greeted by name by more than one person. One reached out a hand, “Susan, it’s nice to meet you,” before I uttered much more than a hello. I was confused. But, then I picked up my nametag and I realized: I was the last to arrive.
We were now assembled, twelve strangers and one leader, for a five day (plus a bit more) writing workshop. Our first task was to navigate the reception and we seemed to do nicely. Small clusters of people formed, but not in a way that seemed cliqueish. People wandered around, introducing themselves and sharing a few personal details—where they were from and how they had arrived at the conference center in central Massachusetts, etc.
We gathered for dinner and then the scene was set for the following days. It was a busy schedule. For five full days, we would be writing, learning, sharing comments, listening to comments, experimenting with new writing, reading, discussing, eating, writing some more, occasionally sleeping, and perhaps finding a little time for some exercise. In addition, we would also gather to watch and discuss a film and meet with a local author.
During the course of our five days (plus a bit more) together, we shared many things: vulnerabilities and tender moments; challenges we face in our ministries along with a joyful moment or two; childhood memories that hadn’t come to mind in a very long time; and attempts at new, and sometimes awkward, forms of writing. And, of course, there was a lot of laughter and the accumulation of inside jokes.
Twelve strangers and a leader—men and women, different ages, from different places, different Christian faith traditions, and different life experiences. All writers, wanting to learn more, do more, with this thing that had become such a loud voice in our calling. Twelve strangers and a leader. All writers, although sometimes a bit wary of claiming that part of ourselves. We sought to help each other, offering encouragement or a suggestion. Sometimes we just listened, marveling at the power and meaning that words can convey.
On Saturday night, as we came together for our final session, each of us sharing a short piece of writing, laughing and crying and falling into moments of pregnant silence, we marveled at our wonderful, fruitful days, and how quickly they had evaporated. At the end, we shared communion together, and after almost a week of writing and rewriting sentences, paragraphs and pages, we each shared a single word with our neighbor around the table. The words were whispered as the cup was passed around—joy, create, blessing, trust, shine . . . .
We had become a community, a group of friends. And, then it was time to scatter, to return home. But, each one left with amazing and powerful gifts—a stronger voice, a clearer point, a renewed commitment to write more and to share more widely.
Thank you to my writing colleagues who made last week such a meaningful experience for me. Thank you Beth, Kelly, Tiffany, Kevin, Mike, Tim, Michael, Carol, Taylor, Carl, and Alyssa. And, thank you as well to our thoughtful and fearless leader, John. Thank you all for your attentiveness to the other that surely was with us along the way, the Holy Spirit.
I must also thank those who were not writing with us, but were still significantly present, in their support and encouragement of spiritual writers—the Lilly Endowment, the Collegeville Institute and the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. And, finally, to Andrea and Ellie at the Massachusetts Conference who handled all of the small details that made the week run so smoothly. Thank you to all for a remarkable and memorable week.