INDIANAPOLIS (Lilly Endowment) - "Putting first things first" is the goal of the Rev. Sidney F. Gauby and his 900-member congregation at St. Joseph United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. For the past few years, Gauby says, he's "just been adding one more thing to my schedule and one more responsibility to think about." This situation resonates with many of his congregants.
Gaudy is one of 25 pastors representing 22 congregations in Indiana who have been selected as recipients in the 2008 Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations.
This is the 10th year for the program through which the Endowment invites congregations and ministers to consider and plan a period of "intentional reflection and renewal." It provides a time for ministers to get away from their daily obligations and gain the fresh perspective and renewed energy that a carefully considered "sabbath time" of travel, study, rest and prayer can provide.
Gauby says that participating in this renewal program will "help focus the congregation on putting first things first, encouraging the development of a sustainable rhythm of life and making time to step back and see God at work in their own lives and others'."
Gauby's renewal will involve returning to places of beginnings, reconnecting with his family and rediscovering the passions of the past. Next summer, he - as many of the renewal pastors do - will begin with a time of personal retreat. Gauby will get away to Gethsemani, Ky., to disengage from his active life of ministry.
He will take up photography again - he set it aside for the ministry - and head for the central European Alps and photo lessons from an expert. In the Dusseldorf area, he will meet up with his family as well as with members of the German family whose daughter was an exchange student four years ago in Fort Wayne.
When he and his wife return stateside, they will spend some quiet time together in a rustic cabin near Crater Lake National Park, a place he enjoyed as a child. After some family time in Boise, Idaho, he will take a personal retreat to focus on prayer practices that have often been "shortchanged during my busy ministry."
Meanwhile back in Fort Wayne, the parishioners have planned an ambitious "retreat" for themselves. They will be asked to share creatively how they "experience God's presence." The resulting photos, poems, stories, artwork and whatever will turn the congregational space into a gallery. Staff and congregational members may participate in retreats. Instead of church meetings in August, the leadership teams will focus on prayer.
"For a church with six worship services of varying styles, it often feels as if there are six small churches meeting in one building," the members say. Therefore, a new "Sabbath Homes" program will start the first Sunday next July when members of the same service will visit each other's homes. Next August, Sabbath Homes will "mix it up" and members from different-style services will visit with others from different services. They will all welcome the Gaubys back with a church-wide meal and fellowship.
Any congregation in Indiana with an ordained minister is eligible to apply for a clergy renewal grant. The maximum award in 2008 was $45,000, and up to $15,000 of that amount could be used for congregational activities while the pastor is away.
The 22 grants this year total nearly $933,000. They represent 13 cities and towns and 10 counties. Half have fewer than 200 persons at worship, while three have regular worship attendance of more than 1,000. Grantees include congregations from 10 different denominations or traditions.
The Endowment's larger goal is to bolster the good work that America's pastors and congregations are accomplishing day in and day out, to reinforce and build upon the strengths that are evident on both sides of the pulpit.
Other United Methodist congregations and pastors selected for the 2008 program are: Good Shepherd UMC and the Rev. Phillip R. Emerson of Fort Wayne, and Speedway UMC and the Rev. Darren Cushman Wood. Each of the three United Methodist Churches will receive a grant of $45,000 from the Lilly Endowment.