PASTOR CHUCK came to Cashmere Presbyterian Church on December 1, 1997 from Auburn, Washington. Raised on Mercer Island, Chuck is a native of Washington State. He spent many years in college ministry in Bellingham, where he met Terri. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. Chuck is a piano composer and he enjoys writing and outdoor activities. His wife, Terri has many interests, including gardening and painting. They have two sons.
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EIGHT DAYS IN ARKANSAS
I had only been in the state of Arkansas once before. It was about 20 years ago, driving back from seminary with my wife, a 4-month-old Chris, a cat and a U-Haul trailer full of our stuff. We drove through Little Rock and spent a day in Hot Springs before moving on. Now I was re-awakening to sights and sounds my brain had not heard over that score of time: the slight moisture on the skin from the afternoon sun, close rolling hills that embraced us into the lake which Camp Fermclift surrounded. The lake full of activity – geese, minute frogs, turtles – even snakes (I was told but thankfully I didn’t see one – at least in the water.) The little circles radiating on the water’s surface at evening were fish feeding on the insects and later – as the twilight deepened – the steady thrum of crickets and cicadas.
This is where I spent eight days in my own comfortable, inauspicious room with a window looking out on that lake – about 25 other pastors and I. This was the CREDO conference which the Board of Pensions mostly underwrites for PCUSA pastors in mid-career to attend. CREDO is Latin for “I believe” – although we learned it is an anagram meaning “Clergy Reflection Education Development Opportunity.” I was able to come on a waiting list to this event which pastors must be invited to – and I was so blessed to be there. And why does the denomination put so much resources into this event? As we learned, simply a good investment for the need to keep people like ourselves, who labor in a spiritually, emotionally, physically demanding call in this day and age to stay healthy. I learned from my colleagues and from the team of excellent leaders how much ours is a public calling as much as it is a deep spiritual calling. This is a role that demands our deepest resources from all our human wells: from our minds, our hearts, our spirits, our emotions, our bodies. The statistics shared with us revealed how often pastoral burnout or washout plague denominations across the board. So – as I head to breakfast, chattering at the geese grazing the lawn and getting acquainted with other pastors serving from Florida to Idaho – I’m grateful to find myself here – chattering about common concerns, common fears, common ideas.
Yes, the location is peaceful and beautiful. I can’t help but feel it in my pores as I circle the lake in prayer, puff my way up “Luke Mountain” with a pastor from Maryland or walk the labyrinth by the stone chapel built in the 30’s. But it’s not just a retreat. I’ve never been to an “event” that was more well designed, geared to all learning styles and focused to help us make healthy goals within a community. In addition to filling out a notebook of homework where we reflected on the spiritual, emotional, physical, financial health of our lives – we are also put in a group of three other fellow pastors in order to check in and listen to each other’s concerns and ideas. I had the privilege of meeting David who’s been head of staff for a larger church in Missouri. He always asked good, helpful questions about our plans. There was Amy from New Jersey, who’s in a clear time of transition with her church. We had some great discussion about how to help people listen to each other across barriers and experience. And Leah from Seneca Falls, New York (Bedford Falls for movie buffs) was a hoot as she shared the challenges of working in the Peace Corps, meeting her husband from Africa and leading her church in new ways of worship. What a gift these three had become during my week.
For all the new faces, I was blessed to meet an old familiar one: our main team leader who was Pastor Riley Jensen. His first church was at Mercer Island Presbyterian. I was sitting in the pews as a high school student as he presided at the wedding of my cousin Beezie. We had common memories to share of the people and places of my youth. But more than that, Riley blessed me not just with vocational counsel, but real personal counsel as I came to him with even personal struggles and reflections. The faculty each had their area of expertise: Ann reminded me of simple ways to keep the body and mind healthy; Charlies was a thorough, likable financial advisor with an easy smile, Blair led our times of worship with thoughtfulness and creativity – allowing us pastors who do this all the time to simply sit back and enjoy worship for once.
By the end of the week, we had crafted some goals for ourselves, and rather than just filing them away in the wishful thinking file, we gathered on Sunday around the communion table of worship – and lay them before God as we rejoiced in the sacraments. Best of all (and something even we pastors MUST cultivate, guard and seek after) I reconnected in a very tactile, spiritual way to God again. In a morning in quiet with the group, I felt the currents of emotion and worry that we all struggle with subside under me – rather than war with me. God granted me a peace that I could sit with for almost an hour – then as I walked quietly around the lake in gratitude – I spied a slab of angular rock and picked it up in my reverie. The rock, like no other, seemed to fit so comfortably in my palm. As I walked with it, I was moved almost to tears. The only way I can describe this particular rock was that it did not feel like I held it in my hand – it’s weight, it’s fit I can only say, gave me the sensation that my hand is being held – by God – in the midst of everything. One of the many gifts of my week – which I now keep on my desk, close to my heart, close to my mind and spirit, next to the notebook and CREDO plan - with all the gifts I gleaned from my eight days in Arkansas.
As a preview of the Psalms for a previous Sunday in the month of November, we heard from Psalms about trust in God – psalms of residing with God in the place of worship – in the old testament, that was the temple. We will also heard a psalm reminding us of God’s keen concern for the poor, followed by one about God’s wonders being “proclaimed” to all the world. Finally – and appropriately as November winds down – a Psalm of Thanksgiving. As part of the preaching of these Palms, November is always the month we encourage the church to begin prayerfully planning for the new year – a time to reflect on what God has given us and how we might be released to be good stewards of all that we are given in gifts, time and treasure. In addition to the Psalms speaking to our sense of stewardship, we have opportunity in the Minute for Missions time, to hear specifically from some of our Elders on how our ministries are inspired and need your support for the coming year.
We hope that in whatever way you are led to give, that we all know something of what it is to do so joyfully in the Lord.
121 Days: One to One
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Sabbatical Musings of a "Peterson" Pastor on the Road to Rediscovering Joy.
CHECK OUT the entries and photos from my writings each month while I was on Sabbatical...
Drawing from the Well