Almost three years ago I received an invitation. The email asked me to participate in a symposium for pastors just beginning their ministry. It was to take place at Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. We would spend six days together discussing the various responsibilities of a pastor: preaching, pastoral care, teaching, supervising staff, leadership, and more. Our leaders were two current pastors and a seminary administrator. The invitation made it clear that this was a small group, designed to foster lasting impact, and that I needed to respond quickly. I eagerly leapt at the chance to partake in such an opportunity. I submitted my application and marked my calendar for late-March 2020.
Two years later, I have just returned from spending the past week in Roanoke, in the company of fellow new-ish pastors. The week was worth the wait. It offered a literal binder-filled wealth of information and best practices. We spent days discussing our experiences, delving into the unique practice of pastoral ministry, and learning how to sustain such work and vision for the long term. The entire educational experience enlivened my energy for pastoral ministry.
What held the week together, though, was not the binding of the binder nor the comprehensive schedule, but the new relationships and friendships created. Very quickly our small group of eight new-ish pastors came to trust and respect one another. After sharing best practices, we also lifted up some of our heartfelt hopes. When we discussed leadership styles, we admitted where we had failed to lead faithfully. While sitting around the dinner table we discussed how to write a sermon as well as how to sustain the life of faith that produces such a sermon. The bonds of friendship allowed for a truer sharing that spoke to the deeper truths of life, ministry, and faith.
In Frederick Buechner’s book Godric, the eponymous main character reflects on his five friends saying, “What’s friendship, when all’s done, but the giving and taking of wounds?” I would expand that question to include the giving and taking of joy and excitement, pain and hurt and life. One of the great gifts of the life of faith is that it is not meant to be lived alone. We were created for relationship, to support and care for one another. We give and we take, helping one another live life well.
I encourage you to spend time this week intentionally cultivating your friendships in faith: Call a friend you respect, write a letter to a mentor you admire, share a struggle with someone you trust. Be open to the give and take of relationship, and look for ways that your friendships enhance your faith. When you do I pray you flourish in friendship and love toward your neighbor and God. And I pray that such flourishing sustains you as you continue your journey of faith.