One of the tricky pieces of being single and a parish priest is finding a life outside the church. In Benedictine style, I’ve found that I have to be very intentional to make sure that all parts of my life are lived in balance.
Early in my days in ordained ministry, I made a “first on the calendar” rule. Unless there was an outstanding reason otherwise, whatever appointments I made first were the ones I kept–no changing at the last minute for some more attractive opportunity. I learned early that I had to schedule “me” appointments or something that seemed more pressing would override times for fun and rest.
One of the appointments I am religious (no pun intended) about keeping is a day of Sabbath each week. I also take every day of vacation, every day of continuing ed, and every day of spiritual development that is part of my ministry agreement with St. Mary’s. This was rather novel for the parish in the beginning days of our life together. No rector had ever done that before. I am now largely told (though I’m sure some people would rather I were around all the time) that the parish appreciates the way I take care of myself. I am told that the parish knows that they can only be as healthy as I am.
One of ways I care for myself is my monthly book group. Several years ago a friend and I decided to start the group. We were an interesting assortment of women from the beginning because she and I traveled in different circles. We are very loosely organized–choosing books only a couple of months ahead and the same for whose home will host the group.
The top shelf of the bookcase in my bedroom is now full with the books that we’ve read over the past three years. I love looking at those books because many are ones I’d have never read if someone in the book group hadn’t offered it as a monthly suggestion.
I am struck each time we gather that the book group is one of the few activities in my life where we don’t pray aloud as part of our gathering. I noticed it especially this past month when we decided to do something different for our July meeting because we didn’t think we’d have a quorum. We decided to keep our date on the calendar but have dinner together instead.
As six of us sat around the table with salads, pizza, and wine, I saw these women in a new light–a brilliant young woman who works for a nonprofit; a woman from the East Coast who works with people from different cultures helping them to be at home in the United States; a woman who is a pilot and a bit of an entrepreneur; a clinical psychologist; a stay at home mom who has put the same excellence into her parenting that she did into her career. Our three other members, a woman with a Ph.D. who is originally from India; our senior member whose delight for life and intellect is greatly admired; and a church leader and grandmother with great curiosity and a caring heart, were with us in spirit. As we talked about our common lives, I realized that even without the shared experience of reading the same book, we were now friends and a community.
I especially realized this with the words of interest from the group gathered that night about my candidacy for bishop. I would never have imagined their interest and support. One of the great costs of discipleship if I am elected will be leaving these women and our monthly time together. However, they have put the consecration date on their calendars and say they will be having a serious road trip to join me if I am elected.
Our next two books are Olive Kitteridge and The Space Between Us, although our change in schedule has us a bit confused about which is the August book and which is the September, and at whose house were we planning to meet? A series of emails will straighten this out before the second Tuesday of the month.