Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Holy Friendship

Erika's beautiful post about Spiritual Companions prompted me to share a homework assignment. For Field Education, we are reading "Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry" by L. Gregory Jones and Kevin R Armstrong. The book grew out of a colloquium on excellence in ministry that was part of a Pew and Pulpit research project. The third chapter is on "holy friendships" and I kept hearing Erika's post on spiritual companions echo in my head as I read it. Here, then, is not so much a blog, but a homework assignment.

Field Education Reflection Paper
Karen Clark Ristine

Resurrecting Excellence
Chapter 3: Resurrecting Excellence in the Christian Vocation

“…Christian ministry – for all Christians – bears witness to the light of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit as we journey toward the fullness of God’s kingdom…”

This powerful description of Christian vocation has stayed with me in the days since I read it. Particularly as I have helped plan for Advent in both our contemporary service and our Vespers service, the image of my vocation being to “bear witness to the light of Christ” is a beautiful admonition.

I also welcomed the more specific message of this chapter, which was the formation, nurturing and living of “holy friendships.” Because many of the concerns raised for me this semester have been about boundaries between pastor and parish, I was delighted to see a model for making Christian friendship a priority. I don’t have to choose whether to be a kindergarten parent or a pastor, I now have a model for how to be both.

Most beautiful for me was the image of “being alongside” someone and the consistency with which that theme emerged in the authors’ conversations with laity and clergy: “As we listen to imaginative and faithful clergy and laity, they almost always describe ministry in terms of whom they have been alongside.” Being alongside covers so many different possibilities. I have been alongside people who were dying. I have been alongside people realizing the joy of Christian calling. I have been alongside a very bright but shy woman who shares her concerns one or two sentences at a time over a period of months. I have been alongside a senior pastor who has become a “holy friend” and I have been alongside colleagues who both support me and challenge me to grow. All in my first full year of ministry as a vocation. And, at CST, I have been alongside amazing people. Professors and seminar leaders with a passion not just for their work but for life, classmates who bring caring and concern into seminary, staff (both administrative and hourly) who seem called, too, to serving. There are so many people who have made this new walk so rich for me. My hope is that being alongside me has been beneficial to them, too. And, writing this the day before Thanksgiving, I recognize what a blessing this “alongsideness” has been.

I especially appreciated the depth with which the authors developed this theme, not leaving it as a surface relationship between two people who share Christianity in common. Instead, they write:

“Holy friends are those who, over time, get to know us well enough that they can challenge sins we have come to love, affirm gifts we are afraid to claim, and dream dreams about how we can bear witness to God’s kingdom that we otherwise would not have dreamed.”

I have two or three holy friendships that have reached this depth, and, even when the honesty is painful, the foundation of the friendship bears the weight of those truths. And the affirmation is joyous. And the kingdom dreaming grows beyond dreams into reality.

I am grateful for my holy friends and eager to make more. Most importantly, I am eager to consider how I can reach the depth of this call to holy friendship in ways that are meaningful to many people, both in congregations where I serve and in my personal life. And, in so doing, my hope is that I can “bear witness to the light of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit as we journey toward the fullness of God’s kingdom.”


RevErikaG said...

Thanks for sharing your homework with us...certainly an "A" in my book... I truly believe that the power in spiritual leadership is grounded in our ability to walk alongside.... that is what the Holy Spirit does with us naturally.
You bless me....Happy Thanksgiving

molly said...

Thanks for being a holy friend--who brings pumpkin soup, too!!

LutheranChik said...

I would love to see a model of discipleship nurtured in churches where there's less group programming and more cultivation of supportive "holy friendships"...especially in these times when many people simply can't get involved in the "busy" weekday/weeknight activities of churches.

Delurking today...hello!