I finished reading a book this week. When I flipped the pages of the book one last time I landed in “Acknowledgments.” I will confess that I don’t always read the acknowledgments section of books. If I think I will know someone who is mentioned, I might scan the section. I read the first sentence of the author’s acknowledgments and was drawn into its spiral of gratitude. Lines expressing thanksgiving for “intelligent conversation,” “timeless friendship,” “close listening” and “for a sure and intuitive understanding of the book struggling to be born from a writer’s first imaginative stirrings” leapt off of the page. I was struck by these wonderful definitions of Holy Friendship.
While standing in the United Methodist Foundation of Indiana booth at the Indiana Annual Conference session, I watched as friends greeted one another with smiles and hugs. I joined this fine ritual as old friends walked by and our eyes met. Often laughter erupted as we recalled stories of earlier days in a particular congregation or an event that shaped a life forever. Lay people, clergy, women, men all participate in this life-sustaining ritual.
I have been blessed with many holy friendships in my life. There are clergy sisters and brothers who have carried me through the dangerous waters of self-doubt, success, health concerns, parenting and so much more. I am grateful for the few who have been able to hear my story and not pass judgment, but offer forgiveness, grace and always “close listening.” There is a saying I have seen on cards: People just need a good listening to. (I know the grammar is bad, but that is what the card said.) Holy Friendship is a critical part of our lives as Christians. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, gathered his ‘methodists’ in bands and covenant groups to encourage the work of holiness.
Holy Friendship is not about being in agreement or even about liking your friend. Can you trust this person with the deepest questions of your soul, the darkest moments in your life and the most joyous events? As I write this I am preparing to go on vacation with friends from my high school graduating class. Most of us have known each other since elementary school. At this point in my life they are the ones who have known me the longest except for my brothers and a few elderly relatives. The gift of their friendship has circled round after many years of building careers, raising children and now moving into retirement.
A weekend with three of my high school “girlfriends” several years ago has turned into trips with spouses to Alaska, Colorado, Bald Head Island and now Maine. These are holy friendships. We got reacquainted as we shared with each other our deepest sadness and celebrated our many successes in life. I know any one of them would open her heart to me if I needed some “close listening.” I would do the same for them. The binding of our friendship is in our history; both old and new. It isn’t in agreement regarding social issues or political identity. We remember when we had ugly glasses, were ugly to each other and that we needed each other.
All of this was buzzing around in my head occurred as I attended the Ordination Commissioning Service this past month. I know many of the ordinands have developed Holy Friendships in their clergy covenant groups. Friendships built out of trust and close listening to each other. These years of their ministry will not always be smooth sailing. There will be trouble and heartache, as well as joyous relationships and moments of success. These experiences are rich and life-giving as they are shared with our holy friends.
Every time I listen to the ordinands answer the questions about perfection, I pause and pray that they will have friends to guide them through the times that will perfect them in love. My life has shown to me most of the experiences that move me toward being made perfect in love, first take me on a wild ride of doubt and sometimes despair before love finds its way in me and I am one step closer to being perfected in love. The road to perfection is a rough one. We are asked to change and to love in ways that seem impossible. As pastors and laity we are asked to learn more than peoples’ names. We learn who they love and what they value. Although it is easy to categorize people, perfecting love moves us to a deeper conversation that is beyond labels. We need people in our lives who love us when we can’t love ourselves.
By now some of you may be asking: What does this have to do with Rejuvenate? There is a simple and elegant connection for me. We are connected with each other through our baptism. Baptism is done in the context of worship. In the liturgy we are asked to reject evil, accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil and confess Jesus Christ as your Savior. The parents or person answers these affirmatively and then the pastor addresses the parents and asks if they will nurture the child in Christ’s holy church. And then the congregation is asked,“Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care? The congregation then affirms their commitment to nurture and pray for the newly baptized.
Rejuvenate is not only about educating laity and clergy on best practices in financial matters, giving scholarships and grants to clergy and seminary students, or helping pastoral families with emergencies that arise in their lives. Rejuvenate is about nurturing one another in the faith, praying for each other and yes, building holy friendships that will sustain us throughout our faith journey. Those are practices that will transform us.
The last sentence of the Acknowledgments in the book is as follows: “All the above have contributed to whatever qualities the book may possess; its flaws and omissions are all my own.” Holy Friendships have contributed to my better qualities and I take responsibility for my mistakes. I am not yet perfected and I believe I will be.
For more information about the ministries of Rejuvenate contact Mary Ann Moman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 317-788-7879.
“We need people in our lives who love us when we can’t love ourselves.”