Grateful Reflections on the Sabbatical Summer of 2010
“Passionate Spirituality is 100% total and complete commitment to God” was one definition received during a visit to a Natural Church Development (NCD) experienced congregation as I sought to better understand the depths of “passionate spirituality” in practice. Through a generous sabbatical grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., my theme was “Exploring Personal, Regional and Global Dimensions of Passionate Spirituality.”
My Lilly application’s sabbatical definition was similar but even more distinct: “Passionate spirituality is the way Christians actively live out their faith with commitment, fire and enthusiasm, freely sharing it with others.” Personally, regionally and globally, I was blessed to have received, through my sabbatical journeys from June 7 through September 6, experiences that strongly affirmed this second definition in eye-opening, renewing and life-changing ways.
Personally, I encountered a faith community firmly grounded and committed to passionate spirituality through the Holy Cross Monastery located in West Park, New York. Working with an existing spiritual director, I participated in the daily life within the beautiful setting of this Episcopal Benedictine Monastic Order. Framed like bookends, I spent four days in June and four days in the closing week, deepening spiritual discernments through selected readings, the daily cycle of worship, prayer, meditation and dialogue.
Regionally, Zion Lutheran Church in Rahway, New Jersey and Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania, both of whom had completed three full cycles of NCD surveys and responses, offered wonderful hospitality to my arrival and responses to questions during my four-day visits. We identified challenges and opportunities in addressing and initiating viable group activities that tap into this endless quest to deepen and engage passionate spirituality living. I received from pastors and lay leaders alike, honest and inspiring assessments, ongoing struggles and undying hopes, wrestling with this often allusive goal.
Globally, my wife, Susan and I encountered first-hand, passionate spirituality daily lived and expressed among amazing, deeply committed Lutherans in the North Western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. To call this trip life-changing is an understatement. Passionate spirituality among these brothers and sisters might be defined as anticipating, seeing and receiving 100% of God’s complete commitment to fulfill Jesus’ mission of saving love in everything. The Holy Spirit graces one’s way of living faithfully, daily receiving God’s abundance of blessings in the midst of limited resources and overflowing opportunities to serve in Jesus’ name.
In the overall planning of the sabbatical, we identified and created three specific phases: sending (June 6th service)...tending (June 7 through September 6)... and extending (the time following our return to St. John's on September 7 onward). Now, in this extending phase, worship increasingly is becoming the focal point of deepening our passionate spirituality through steps promoted in Jonathan Linman's book, Holy Conversations and Craig Nessan's book, Beyond Maintenance to Mission. This sabbatical has provided new experiences of how God continually transforms the baptized in Christ for mission when the faith community centers itself in Christ Jesus in and through our worship life together. All congregational leaders have been given copies of Nessan’s book to share the vision for mission.
Together, we will be striving to enhance our worship life at all three worship service opportunities. This will be explored through intentional planning of worship enhancements, incorporating suggestions from Holy Conversations, modifying our worship schedule to allow for missional interactions with newcomers and existing members, re-shaping our third worship service, and exploring achievable ways of engaging more people in smaller group discussions around God's Word for upcoming Sundays. The assistance of Pastor Jonathan Linman and Pastor Jack Horner, Assistants to the Bishop, will help to move us forward in the months to come.