Monday, October 28, 2013

Fun Is Good

John, Susan, Mary, and Michael
We were 28 deacons and priests, aged 55 and up. It was a brisk, exquisitely clear night amid the ponderosa pines of Prescott, Arizona. We’d already spent many hours in plenary meetings on big subjects such as vocation (the Church’s word for where and how we serve and work in Christ’s vineyard), personal health and finance, and spirituality.

According to our schedules, this was a “a night of creativity.” But nobody had asked Fr. James, chaplain of St. George’s Independent School in Memphis, or me to bring our guitars. Instead, as we stood in the lobby awaiting instructions, we could hear Wilson Pickett singing “In The Midnight Hour.”

Through the glass doors, we could see that our CREDO team had replaced the U-shaped conference table with two dozen smaller ones covered in yellow and red butcher paper. There were stacks of magazines, baskets of colored feathers, and an abundance of Elmer’s Glue-All, two-sided tape, and colored pipe cleaners. I shot a glance at Eric, a vocational deacon from New Jersey who runs a social justice ministry for young adults in the Diocese of Newark. With a nod, he confirmed what I’d feared. “Arts and crafts project,” he said tersely.

To borrow the circumspect language we try to use on the diocesan Commission on Ministry, arts projects are not my gifting.

And yet within minutes I was cutting letters and images from magazines and gathering supplies while singing along with my sisters and brothers to Stax Volt, Motown, and the Doobie Brothers. The CREDO faculty didn’t tell us what to make. Our conference director, LA’s own the Rev. Hartshorn Murphy, said, “Let the materials choose you.” Entering the festive space, I had suddenly thought about afternoons and evenings in Yorba Linda when everyone’s over for dinner. One might say that the Holy Spirit, right on cue, had sung me a song of abundant joy. So I fashioned a household god for our big mixed family, including ten feathers in ten colors and earrings that say “life is good” and “best day ever.”

Local diety
Knowing exactly what I was supposed to do during our evening of creativity was the fruit of discernment. Discernment usually doesn’t mean choosing between right and wrong. It’s the tool we use when, as one of our faculty members said, “there are many right answers.” The purpose of our mid-October conference and retreat was to help us use the gift of non-anxious discernment in aspects of our lives and ministries that really matter, even ones that entail risk, hardship, and loss.

The Episcopal Church’s periodic CREDO conferences are organized by the Church Pension Group to help clergy get and stay healthy. St. John’s paid $500 for me to attend. CPG paid $5000, which shows how seriously the Church takes the well being of its pastors. Some of us received insights about how to plan for retirement, others about whether to open their ears to calls to new positions. CPG gave us practical advice about taxes and investments. We worshiped, prayed, meditated, went on dawn walks and did dawn yoga, and encountered God in many other ways, including small-group fellowship, where I made new friends in Mary (Utah), Michael (Monterey), and Susan (New Hampshire).

And yet all week I was thinking, “I wish Kathy could come; I wish everyone could come,” because most core CREDO teachings belong to all God’s people. One example was faculty member Priscilla Condon’s prophetic ministry about eating to honor the fleshy temples we have the privilege of occupying (also the theme of seminarian Robyn Henk’s early-2012 class at St. John’s). We left resolving to exercise more, drink more water, cut out the margarine and artificial sweeteners, and above all remember, as Priscilla taught us and Dr. Oz confirms, that Trader Joe’s coconut oil and raw honey are good for what ails you.

"Credo," incidentally, means “I believe.” We each left Prescott with a three-part CREDO plan and many CREDO resolves. One of mine is to continue to live into a teaching we were also offered in Latin by another faculty member, the Rev. Canon Matthew Stockard: Felicitas es bonam, which means “Fun is good.” Amen!

This post original appeared in the Vaya Con Dios, the newsletter of St. John's Episcopal Church.