Lilly grants to YDS alums provide space for spiritual renewal
Yale Divinity School graduates who serve congregations selected for the Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program’s 2011 class are traveling to such far-flung places as Lebanon, Cambodia, Uganda, France, and Hawaii as they embark on individually tailored programs of spiritual renewal.
Among YDS alumni participating in the Lilly program are Jill Edens ’78 M.Div., co-pastor of United Church of Chapel Hill (UCC), Chapel Hill, NC; Peter Lovett ’89 M.Div., pastor of Christ Church United (UCC), Lowell, MA; Wes Smedley ’02 M.Div., rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, Dunn Loring, VA; and Peter Strimer ’80 M.Div., rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA.
On June 22, Edens and her husband, Richard, also ’78 M.Div. and co-pastor with her, will step on a plane for Beirut, Lebanon, where at long last they will meet their daughter, Ruth Edens, a 2010 M.Div. graduate of Andover Newton Theological School, on a journey that had been planned for July 2006 when Ruth was a UCC/DOC Global Ministries Intern in Beirut.
Instead, Ruth was evacuated that summer as Israeli bombs exploded over Lebanon. Her parents met her in Istanbul, where she found refuge with other UCC missionaries. Now, thanks to the Lilly award, the Edenses will return to Lebanon and go on to Israel on what they hope will be a journey of healing following the searing experiences of the 2006 evacuation. Their overseas experience will conclude with four weeks of rest and renewal at the Tantur Institute near Jerusalem.
Lovett describes Christ Church United as “a diverse, vibrant, mission and justice-focused, multicultural church.” In living out its mission – “Loved by God, Loving our Neighbor, Walking the Way of Justice” - CCU shows signs of vitality in many facets of life, including, among other things, increased appreciation for global music in worship, reflecting its multicultural reality.
CCU has "nested” two congregations drawn from the city's immigrant population, Lao (UCC) and Iglesia Hispana (UCC). Together, several times a year, the three churches, each with distinctive theologies, worship and music styles, share worship and fellowship together to serve the community.
With the support of the Lily Endowment, Lovett has been using his sabbatical time to travel to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Puerto Rico, and Austin, TX (South by Southwest Music Festival) to forge deeper connections with the people, cultures, and especially the genres of music reflected in the multicultural, intergenerational church setting. His grant allowed for Rev. Ted Rasakham to travel to Asia with him, and also funds a return visit of Patrick Evans (YDS, Institute of Sacred Music) to lead an overnight retreat of singing and storytelling for members of all three congregations.
Lovett says the sabbatical time has allowed him to “forge deeper connections with the people and their culture, through music.” Smedley calls his program of renewal “an intentionally brazen and unashamed feast of health and joy.”
The purpose is for Smedley, his family, and the church to experience “a tangible care of the body and soul: not as a guilty pleasure, but as a glimpse of the health and joy that God desires for all of creation.”
Says Smedley, “The Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC can be a uniquely stressful spiritual wilderness in which people get isolated from God, isolated from community, isolated from the natural landscape, and isolated from their own bodies. They are pushed to an inhuman pace, get overwhelmed and exhausted, and then make unhealthy choices which become encrusted habit.”
He explains that the program seeks to "crack" the shell of destructive habits and “establish life-giving habits that subvert and resist the corrupting forces of isolation in the dominant culture.”
For 13 weeks, Smedley’s sabbatical will involve intentional practices of nutrition, exercise, and restraint through a ten-day retreat at a residential health center, nutritional cooking classes, regular visits with a spiritual advisor, and a weekly regimen of tennis and yoga for the pastor--with a similar program offered for the church community.
Smedley also plans to study the relationship between practices that make for healthy human bodies and practices that make for healthy church bodies, by interviewing ten priests in vibrant, growing communities.
Smedley and his family will also renew friendships by visiting longtime friends in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.
Strimer is in the midst of a four-month sabbatical experience entitled, "How Can We Sing a New Song?" He has been to Uganda to visit churches there and experience their uses of drumming in worship and has also spent a retreat at the Taizé Monastery near Cluny, France, to deepen his participation in the style of chant developed there. He is spending April in Chicago, working with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago's Dent Davidson, missioner for arts and liturgy, as well as taking drumming and blues guitar lessons.
Back home at St. Andrew's in Seattle, people of the parish have been exploring alternative service music, creating new musical ensembles and taking classes in African dance and drumming. Davidson spent a 10-day residency at St. Andrew's in January to launch this joint pastor-parish renewal program.
Under the National Clergy Renewal Program, the Indianapolis-based Endowment provides Christian congregations with grants of up to $50,000 to support extended periods of intentional reflection and renewal for ministers that will have important impacts not only on the pastors but also on their congregations and communities.
According to the Endowment, this year’s 158 Clergy Renewal congregations are located in 40 states and the District of Columbia and are affiliated with 23 different denominational bodies, while one is non-denominational and another is a union of two denominations.