Im still processing the past few months, but here are the four gifts/graces I brought back with me.
1. I Learned to Pray Again.
I know it sounds bizarre for a pastor admitting they needed to learn to pray again, but it's the truth. The springboard for this grace was The Examen, a Jesuit practice where one (or, in our case, a family) asks at the end of the day to reflect on their highs and lows (moments of consolation and desolation). The examen was not my idea, but all roads kept pointing to it.
-a woman from the congregation gave my family a copy of Sleeping with Bread
-my spiritual director who is a Benedictine monk said, "I think you ought to consider the examen."
-our family spiritual director (more on this later) a Methodist turned Buddhist said, "I think you all would benefit by incorporating the examen during your pilgrimage."
-then four books by authors from all over the religious spectrum all extolled the virtues of the examen.
OK Divine One. I get it. Take up the examen.
I did, we did. It was an beautiful gift for us on our trip and opened up thoughts and feelings that the trip was stirring within us. And for me the examen reawakened my dormant prayer life.
2. I Got to Know My Kids Again
Like most jobs, but especially pastoral ministry, the church gets the best of my time and hours, while my family gets the leftovers (I still think my leftovers are some pretty good leftovers, but you get the idea). Being away for such a length of time allowed me to not think about sermons, to worry about everything under the sun, to anticipate pastoral calls/visits, or planning while reading (in fact the only reading I did was a book of poems, Still Pilgrim) and instead give my undivided attention to my kids and lovely bride.
As we walked 8-10 hours each day, experienced castles and cathedrals and cows and crows and terrible instant coffee I got to see my children as the amazing human beings they are. Grace upon grace upon grace.
And get this, my kids still like me!
3. Get My Act Together
We visited what seemed like a thousand churches in England and Scotland, they all had these elements in common:
-A Gift Shop
-Ancient Docents in charge who could die at any moment
-Places to pray and light a candle
-They were all messy and could have benefited from a trip to Ikea and purchased a few shelves or storage units.
-They were all, mostly, empty and barely getting by.
There were some churches doing some amazing ministries, you know, last ditch efforts, not-counting-the-cost type of risky ventures. But they were thirty years too late, the remnant membership needed to have done these types of ventures when they had energy and vitality.
I kept thinking: Is this the future of Judson?
Possibly. Unless...unless I and Judson get our act together.
4. The Vicar of Dibley Is Real!
We walked into and lived in tiny villages all over England and Scotland and sure enough the goings-on in the Vicar of Dibley are real. The entire trip, in some way, felt like we were characters in one long episode.