|Commentary by Ann Robins:
"Wilderness" conference reminds us: Clergy need God, too
As I hurried off to the clergy conference on Thursday, Oct. 16, I had a "to do" list that was more undone than done - and Sunday was approaching quickly. I had charge conference materials that were not yet complete. I wondered if this was the best use of my time.
On top of everything else, I was waiting for a response from the Board of Ordained Ministry to see if a lot of work - physical and spiritual - had produced passing fruit. And the day before the conference I had had a biopsy. The discomfort - pain, actually - of that biopsy was real, both physically and spiritually. A friend had been trying to teach me about timing and how God speaks. What a day, I thought, God's timing, to par- ticipate in a conference themed "Wilderness Spirituality." My wilderness was fraught with questions about life and meaning.
So on the day of the conference at Cokesbury Center in Knoxville, I sat in a group of 200-plus. At first, I thought I could easily disengage. However, the format of being in a circle, saying our names, breaking into small groups, and expressing opinions prevented me from withdrawing. I began to wonder what I could glean from the day, while trying not to say anything too stupid.
The Rev. Janet Wolf, from the Tennessee Conference, led us in examining the scripture, Mark 9:2-13 on the Transfiguration, and then Mark 9:14- 29. Through her, the scripture came alive and had meaning for me at that moment, in my need. My focus went zooming past the Transfiguration to the story of healing, because of failure. Jesus healed a boy, because a dad and the disciples could not (failure). We experience God's healing when we come to the end of our own power and need his healing power. "Everything is possible for him who believes." I remembered and felt my own inadequacy in order to live not in the wilderness of self, but to celebrate life, in the power of my God.
Then, during worship, soloist Michael Rodgers sang "People Need the Lord," which set fire and passion to the words of the scripture. I need the Lord, I thought. I need to communicate the Lord because everyone needs the Lord. Sometimes, I have trouble remembering what "need" feels like, then God reminds me of the depth of my need. When I come to the end of my own strength in the wilderness that life brings and seek God's strength, he provides his power. Zechariah 4:6 sums it up so well: "Not by power nor by might but by my spirit says the Lord God of Hosts."
The clergy conference was not what I expected. It was good to be on the other side of the pulpit and to be led into the presence of God. In continuing to receive, I learned, I have something to give. I once again realized the "people who need the Lord" begins with me. I am thankful for opportunities to experience my need of God, to grow and be challenged, and to do the spiritual work at hand. I am thankful to face need, however painful - and to experience God's power, so much bigger than any need.
I am thankful to be moving forward with the ordination process, and the lab report defined the mass as benign.
The Rev. Robins is pastor at Logan's Chapel UMC, Maryville District. Email comments about the "Wilderness Spirituality" clergy conferences, held Oct. 14 and 16 in Bristol, Va., and Knoxville, Tenn., or send mail to The Call, P.O. Box 32939, Knoxville, TN 37930-2939.