When we all got together this past week it was incredible to sit in together and think about where we’ve been, what the journey together has been like, and the incredible gratitude I feel to have somehow, miraculously, been included in such company.
It started seven (!) years ago. Jim Somerville and I had been meeting weekly to discuss the text for the week. Every Monday morning we’d meet up at Starbucks and kick around ideas, fill each other in on what was going on at our respective churches, and dream out loud about what church might be. To say that meeting with Jim every week saved me would be rather an understatement—I found it a rigorous responsibility on many levels to get up in the pulpit every single week, and his years of experience, facility with the text, and comfort with the art of preaching went a long way to give me the confidence I needed to grow as a preacher.
Planning week to week, however, was trying for me. As the church grew I felt like we needed a plan—a bigger picture for what preaching might look like over a whole year. But here is where my creativity failed me . . . I just felt like swimming around in my own little mind was a little too limiting.
So one day Jim and I were talking about this and we thought: what if each of us made a list of the best preachers we know in Baptist life . . . people whom we admire as individuals and esteem as preachers, ministers we’d like to emulate? And what if we got everybody together and planned an ENTIRE YEAR of preaching, all together?
So, the wheels began to turn. We assembled a group of 6—four men and two women—from all over the country. We didn’t all know each other, but everybody knew either me or Jim. Our first meeting we got together at the borrowed vacation house of a member of one of our churches, away from the responsibilities of everyday church and family life. We split up the whole year of preaching, following the Revised Common Lectionary, and each one of us took a section of the year. Dividing up our time, each one of us presented possibilities for preaching, based on the texts the lectionary offered.
I think none of us were sure what the experience would be like. For me, it’s intense, intense work . . . thinking about all the different theological and homiletical ideas flying around, trying to get my mind around the scripture, trying to think about what my congregation might need to hear from the pulpit. When my friends present their ideas it’s like a whole, groaning buffet of ideas I would never have been able to come up with on my own. Now . . . how to assimilate them into programming for the church year? Sometimes overwhelming.
But every year I hear their ideas, I think about my own, and somehow, miraculously, a plan emerges. I take it back to our staff, we think and talk about it in our own context, and it begins to take shape. Strangely, within our group, none of our preaching plans are identical—in fact, they are very different. But they are each born in this rich environment of ideas swirling every which way.
This year marked year seven, and we decided to bring our families—spouses and children. This was a great idea that someone should have thought of before—it was so much fun to see our kids and spouses getting to know these colleagues who have been so influential in our lives. And the whole week turned into what we ended up calling “preacher camp”—with the preachers working every morning, the whole gang exploring the lake every afternoon, and each evening gathering to hear a couple of sermons ourselves and do other deeply spiritual things, like make s’mores over a campfire and turn up the ipod for a dance party in the living room.
Sometimes it’s lonely to be a pastor. Sometimes it’s lonely, too, to be a pastor’s family. Last week at preacher camp was such a gift—not just for the people who listen to our sermons—but for all of us, too.