I was invited by The Reverend Dr. John Burgess, a professor and valued colleague from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, to help start the first “Pittsburgh Seminar” of the Foundation. From the moment I heard the idea, this was a “no brainer!” An opportunity to build potentially lifelong colleagues, studying serious Reformed theology once a year, funded by the Foundation—who in his or her right mind could say no? Years later, I still remain amazed and mystified at how some folks just don’t participate or drop out! This is a gift beyond compare!
What has this meant? Professionally, once a year I have had the JOY of revisiting the language and exegesis of seminary at a truly scholarly level, but now with the added benefit of years of pastoral experience. The readings have helped me to grow in my own theology and in my own beliefs, and they have thoroughly helped me to grow as a Reformed pastor-theologian. Save for a doctoral program, no other form of study leave over the last decade has BEGUN to compare with the quality of this time in study.
Personally, I have been blessed with the gift of long time friends and colleagues. Oh, we have had some serious disagreements over the years (always on theology), but the relationship extends beyond meeting one week a year. Early in my ministry I had a young toddler (the second child I had baptized) die as a result of ingesting kerosene and, on the same day, assisted in the decision to terminate life support of my father-in-law. All of this happened within days of the death of a brother (who died days before his fiftieth birthday).
It was a traumatic time, but I had a call to fulfill. As I prepared to conduct two funerals on the same day, one for the toddler and one for my father-in-law, several members of our seminar appeared. They approached me, realizing the stress of the moment, and simply said, “We are here to support you, to pray for you, and to do what is needed. If at ANY point in either service you need us to help, just nod, and it will be done, up to and including doing the entire service.” Their mere presence, not to mention their prayers, helped me function effectively in this ministry that I have been called to fulfill. They did not NEED to come forward, but their mere presence was a blessing beyond measure!
The Lilly Foundation has conducted in depth research on just why it is that so many ministers leave their callings in the first five years of ministry. There has also been research conducted on the high level of stress and depression that ministers experience. One of the KEY mitigating factors is to develop collegial groups, much like the seminars of the Foundation, as it is through these prayer filled, Spirit filled, Christ led, covenant partnerships that ministers are truly fed with streams of living water. I have tasted of this well, and the water is fine!
Thank you for the joy, the opportunity, the pleasure to grow in God, through Christ, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the Foundation for Reformed Theology.