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Session members crowd together for a selfie

Reflections on the Recent Session Retreat

August 15, 2023

The Session recently participated in a retreat led by consultant Roy Howard. Many members described it as a formational experience that better equipped them for ministry. Howie Nixon writes in the summer Messenger about his experience at the retreat.

I have had mixed experiences with retreats of various kinds in the past, and I was uncertain I had time for this Session retreat. My wife Sara and I had returned from a 3-week trip only a few days before the retreat, and we had accumulated a long list of things to do while we were away. Lots of excuses, but I knew how important it was for me to attend the retreat as a new Session member. I am very happy I did! After all, I love this church, its people, what it stands for, and what it has done in and for the community. The retreat was an excellent way to deepen my commitment, expand my knowledge of the church and Session, and help me better understand my leadership role as a member of Session.

Our assigned reading prior to the retreat was Acts 2:42-47 and Ephesians 4:1-16. These verses helped us focus on who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. From Acts, we see the importance of being drawn together as people of God and being inspired by the Spirit to share our faith with other believers. We see that we need to be faithful, welcoming, generous, open, and willing to reach out. From Ephesians, we see the importance of using the gifts God gave us to build the body of Christ in love and with humility and to show God’s love for us by demonstrating it to others in our words and deeds in a life “worthy of (God’s) calling.” Our role as ministers is to build a church unified by the Spirit and devoted to serving God.

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Session members crowd together for a selfie
Members of the Session enjoyed outdoor worship and Communion.

But we live in a world with powerfully disruptive forces that sow division, hatred, and conflict rather than unity, love, and peace. What does it mean to try to provide leadership in this kind of world in a way that fulfills God’s calling to be humble servants and do his work in the church and the world? The theme of our retreat was “strengthening the core.” With guidance from our skilled facilitator, Roy Howard, we explored how be Christian leaders and address these kinds of questions as we sought to strengthen the core ministry of our church.

Our role as ministers is to build a church unified by the Spirit and devoted to serving God.

This retreat had a powerful impact on me because I learned from our interactions about how to think more deeply, devoutly, and constructively about the decisions we will be making as members of Session. But the retreat was more than an experience of the mind. Also importantly, it was a chance to get to know the other Session members and to draw us closer together as a group. An ingenious device for building cohesion was the creation of a music playlist. Each of us was asked prior to the retreat to name our favorite song and its artist. At various points during the retreat, Roy played one of the songs he had recorded from our choices and asked us to guess whose choice it was. Then the person who chose the song was asked to explain why it was chosen. It was a clever, fun, and highly effective way of helping us get to know each other better. It was clear from our choices and explanations that our Session is diverse in its interests, insights, and experiences, and this is a good thing as we work together to do God’s work and the work of our church. I am not sure that we would have been as forthcoming and relaxed or would have interacted as openly and effectively if we had not had this shared musical experience.

Transforming the Ordinary

A key idea of leadership is finding innovative and effective solutions amidst ongoing change. Since disruptions of routine and change are constants in life, accepting and dealing realistically, constructively, and creatively with them are essential in trying to move forward. We talked about creativity and problem solving after watching a video on “everyday creativity” about the ideas of National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones. One of his interesting ideas was that creativity involved seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, which involved viewing the ordinary from a new perspective. That is, creativity can be viewed as a matter of perspective. Rather than trying to find the right answer, we need to find the next right answer because change is ongoing and we need to be unafraid to engage in risk taking, we need to accept that we will make mistakes, and we need to embrace the idea of win-learn rather than win-lose. We also need to learn how to break out of established patterns, raise questions, and figure out how to do more with less. We must resist the temptation to reject others who challenge us, and instead listen for what is constructive and potentially useful. Thus, being creative means transforming the ordinary into extraordinary to solve what seem like insoluble problems. We need to see problems as opportunities and not as paralyzing, daunting roadblocks. As Ken suggested, we need to focus on what we care about, what our talents make possible, and trust our intuition.

Our answers today may not be the answers we need in the future.

We are blessed at Catonsville Presbyterian to be part of a church with strong and wise leaders with deep faith and great insights and to have an active, caring and supportive congregation. We are blessed to have enough financial resources to take care of our infrastructure while we also engage in difference-making outreach. We are blessed to be able to support exciting and sometimes risky new initiatives through our Envision grants. Following the theme of one of Ken’s sermons, we must continue to make the kinds of decisions that make these innovations possible and allow our church and community to flourish.

The retreat impressed upon me the importance of seeing leadership as a collective experience, of relying on each other’s different talents, and moving forward with the assurance that we can take risks together based on our shared faith and commitment. I have learned from the retreat that our church is in good hands, that I can trust others on the Session, and that our church can rely on us to make decisions that reflect our various talents and perspectives and that shared faith and commitment. I have learned, though, that there is not a single right answer and that our answers today may not be the answers we need in the future. With prayerful contemplation, openness, flexibility, and courage, we should be able to adapt as circumstances change and call for creative new answers or solutions. If we make mistakes, we must humbly accept them and move on to try to do better the next time. It is what our church deserves from us.