Apr 25, 2023 | John W. Coleman

“Pastors need a break. We need some sense of support and nurture.”

That’s how the Rev. Peter Jamieson, pastor of Richmond UMC in Bangor, described what brought 25 EPA clergy members to scenic Pocono Plateau Camp & Retreat Center April 19 for the Rhythms of Grace clergy spiritual retreat, the first of three being offered by the EPA Cabinet to weary pastors.

For Jamieson and others, it was a six-hour break, with healthy doses of support and nurture…and nature…and meditative silence…and prayer…and fellowship with candid conversation…and more.

“During the (Covid) pandemic all of those things have broken down, and many pastors seem to go without any break or any sense of support or nurture, and then they get close to burn-out.”

The thing about a spiritual retreat is you may not know what you really need—or how much—until you get there and let yourself begin to unravel. That may be what some felt when the Rev. Sarah Davis-Shappell, founder and director of Spiritual Renewal Ministries, had everyone toss an unraveling ball of multi-colored yarn around to one another while seated in a large circle, thus weaving a net with the yarn among them.   

“Pastor Sara made us all feel welcome,” said Jamieson, who came to EPA in July 2020, after retiring as a fulltime pastor in Egg Harbor, NJ. “For some who have been serving in EPA for decades, old friendships were renewed. For others like myself, who are new here, new friendships were gained.

The Rev. Hun Ju Lee photo

We learned about each other

“We ate and talked together and learned about each other. We contemplated deep questions Pastor Sara gave us; some in silence and solitude, others in small groups talking.”

Jamieson described the retreat location as amazing.  “A beautiful setting to spend in silence in God’s creation, where the trees were just beginning to bud and wildlife seemed to just be on the threshold of becoming active…”

For the Rev Kathryn Swan, pastor of Mountainhome UMC, the clergy retreat was “a much-needed reset not only for my ministry, but for my personal life. My husband has had two strokes and two brain surgeries since February.”  

the Rev Kathryn Swan and Leah

Swan was able to bring her 6-month-old daughter, Thea. And the Revs. Steve Morton and Hun Ju Lee, her past and present North District superintendents, “graciously held my baby so I could focus on myself. They knew it was important for me to have this time apart.”

The EPA Cabinet appreciates the importance for many weary pastors to have this time apart from the daily pressures they must endure in their work—even for just a half-day.

We take the time to nourish our own spirits

“As pastors, shepherds of the faith, we dedicate our lives to the spiritual well-being of others,” said Lee. “Yet, it is crucial that we also take the time to nourish our own spirits and strengthen our personal relationship with God.

“At the spiritual retreat, we explored spiritual development through prayer, meditation, and engaging conversations,” he explained. “It created a supportive and nurturing environment where we could openly share our experiences, challenges, and wisdom, learning from one another and growing stronger as spiritual leaders. Through spiritual retreats, our hearts can overflow with renewed faith, insight, and a heightened sense of purpose.”

“I appreciated that there was no cost to us clergy, the food was delicious, and the fellowship was meaningful,” said Swan. “In a difficult time in my life, I was able to lean on the power of prayer, enjoy time with other clergy, and most importantly, put my focus back on God and his never-ending promises.”

Swan “loved the visual of the ball of string, all intertwined and holding each other up.”

So did Jamieson. “After Communion, Pastor Sara showed us, as we lifted the woven, cross-hatched yarn that the structure itself was dependent on all of us,” he recalled. “If any one of us were to let go of our portion of the yarn, the whole structure changed. When she told us to lift it higher, we saw the net holding us all up, and joining us to one another.

The Rev. Hun Ju Lee photo

We ended up promising to pray for each other

“We ended up promising to pray for each other,” he remembered, “especially for those sitting next to each of us. I also promised to pray for one person who is going through some very difficult times. The sense of community that was absent when we arrived was strong when we left. And the Spirit of God that existed when we were together will remain strong.”

NOTE: At least two more no-cost clergy spiritual retreats are scheduled—the next one on Thursday, May 11, at Gretna Glen Camp & Retreat Center in Lebanon. Learn more. Register.  Another will follow September 20, led by the Rev. Ron Bell, Director of Healing and Resilience for Discipleship Ministries and Upper Room Ministries of the UMC.

Also, all EPA racial-ethnic clergy are urged to attend the Retreat for EPA UMC Clergy of Color, June 9-10, at Innabah Camp & Retreat Center in Spring City, PA, sponsored by EPA’s Commission on Religion & Race. Learn more here.