Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal

The information shared here is taken from Holy Wisdom Monastery’s Lilly Grant Proposal.

A. Executive Summary

The Benedictine Women of Madison is an ecumenical Christian monastic community of sisters, rooted in Benedictine spirituality, whose home is Holy Wisdom Monastery. Together with the associate communities of the monastery our mission is to weave prayer, hospitality, justice, and care for the earth into a shared way of life. Since opening the retreat and guest house more than 50 years ago, we have been welcoming people from all faith backgrounds to pray, study, and nourish one another for the sake of transforming lives and communities. After years of experience with the many pastors, ministers, spiritual leaders, and theological and biblical scholars who have come to Holy Wisdom Monastery for spiritual renewal, we see that at this point in our history Holy Wisdom Monastery is uniquely experienced and equipped to create and facilitate an Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal. Giving back what we have been given, our intent is to offer early-career and midcareer clergy the opportunity to nourish the “monk within” through two experiences: 1) two onsite immersions into Christian contemplative spiritual practices and 2) the formation of an offsite monastery without walls that develops life­long, covenantal relationships between clergy peers for the purpose of spiritual companioning, nurturing their own spiritual life, and renewal of their calling.

B. Marks of Thriving in Ministry

Living in community is the foundation of what we propose to offer for the sake of clergy thriving in ministry. The Rule of St. Benedict is the spiritual foundation that guides the theological understanding of pastoral ministry and the pastoral leadership of the Benedictine Women of Madison and communities of Holy Wisdom Monastery.

The Rule, written over six centuries ago as a guide for living in community, teaches that ministry and leadership are lived out, by the grace of God, in and through community. The leader, who is chosen by the community and given the grace of the office does not lead in isolation. The Prologue to the Rule begins with the word “listen.” Pastoral leaders are to listen to God, to themselves and to those both in and outside their local congregations.

That threefold formula for listening holds true for pastoral ministry.It is done in and through community, following the biblical command to love God, love neighbor, and to love self. Pastoral ministers are to love God, love and care for those who are put into their care, and to love and care for themselves.

Building on this understanding of the nature and purpose of pastoral ministry, we use the lens of the Rule of St. Benedict to name marks of thriving in ministry.

Prayer. Benedict teaches “every time you begin a good work, you must pray to God most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” Having right priorities means that thriving pastors have a regular rhythm of individual and communal prayer and scripture study, as they listen for the voice of God.

Balance. Those thriving in ministry lead balanced lives of prayer and worship, work, leisure, and study. This life of balance creates space for love of God, love and care for neighbor, and also attends to love and care for self in body, mind, and spirit. Spiritual friendships with trusted colleagues are an important element of this balance.

Flexibility and adaptability. Across centuries the Rule has adapted to changing culture and societal norms, while maintaining what is essential. To thrive in ministry, clergy also must develop these characteristics as they guide their congregations through this time of significant cultural and societal change.

Humility. Humble leaders will accept the wisdom and counsel of others and ask for help when needed, understanding that God sustains all that is, leaders do not.

Failure. Benedict, understanding the value of failure, said, “Always we begin again.” A thriving minister is not afraid to fail and knows that important lessons are learned through failure.She/he also cultivates this awareness and acceptance of risk taking in the congregation.

Growth. Benedict wrote, ”we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.” Those who thrive in ministry seek to grow in prayer and learning. They seek out, grow with and contribute to communities of practice that support their ongoing growth throughout their ministries.

C. Current State of Pastoral Ministry

As our culture shifts with unprecedented frequency, many churches find themselves challenged by aging membership, economic constraints, growing secularization, and the influences of media and technology. Pastoral ministry has become an increasingly complex and demanding occupation, that requires an ever-growing array of professional competencies as well as depth and resilience of character and spirit.

Recently the Flourishing in Ministry Project (FIMP) at the University of Notre Dame reported that the support systems for clergy are weakening and the demands upon clergy are increasing as churches see their membership and resources decreasing. They determined that clergy tend to fall in the middle range in personal happiness and professional thriving. They also fall in the low to middle range in burnout and chronic fatigue and the ,middle to high range of stress at work, with both women and people of color having more mental and emotional health difficulties in ministry than their white male counterparts. Female clergy are also nearly twice as likely as their male colleagues to feel exhausted.

FIMP also identified practices that they call recovery experiences that experts suggest help prevent clergy burnout and increase their ability to thrive. Among these experiences are relaxation, detachment, spiritual disciplines such as prayer, contemplation, mindfulness, individual or guided meditation, and strong, nurturing communities that include clergy networks, pastoral mentors, and role models.

Clergy who come to Holy Wisdom Monastery for private or group retreats express their deep need for silence, prayer, solitude, and time in nature to restore and nourish their spirit. Madison clergy who attend the Liturgy of the Hours in our oratory say they come because they need the accompaniment of a community of people in a daily rhythm of prayer.

Clergy should be, and often are, encouraged to establish routines that allow for the positive effects of recovery experiences. However, with the myriad demands on their time, energy and material resources, many clergy find themselves tending to the urgent rather than the important. Pastors who negotiate the challenges of ministry well are grounded in a daily spiritual intention of listening to their own spiritual needs and tending to those needs with the same faithfulness they offer to others.

What is often missing in the lives of clergy that needs to be created is 1) an opportunity to experience long periods of deep spiritual refreshment and renewal of call within the monastic rhythms of silence, prayer, and solitude; 2) an opportunity to form ongoing peer spiritual companions; and 3) an opportunity to form a covenanted community of spiritual practice created by and for clergy in congregational ministry.

This proposal aims to establish the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal to meet these needs.

D. Program Purpose and Goals

The purpose of the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal (ECCSR) is to offer spiritual renewal to Christian pastors through immersion experiences at Holy Wisdom Monastery and to build a monastery without walls for their continuing spiritual support.

Thriving in ministry is challenging for clergy in today’s  context of rapid cultural change. The realities of congregational decline and the rise of the Nones leaves many congregations and their pastors struggling to find their place in today’s world. During times of rapid change, the way forward is best discovered through cultivating the spiritual depth and vitality that enables clergy and the congregations they lead to listen for and follow the call of God. What particular role do clergy and congregations play in the world today? How might the richness of Christian spiritual practice be a source of hope and healing? These are the questions and the context that Holy Wisdom Monastery seeks to explore and respond to with the development of the ECCSR.

Holy Wisdom Monastery’s Retreat and Guest House offers nineteen private sleeping accommodations, allowing us to host nine early-career clergy and ten midcareer clergy from a wide range of Christian denominations. The early-career clergy have three to eight years’ experience in congregational ministry. The midcareer clergy have eight to fifteen years’ experience in congregational ministry. They are diverse in many ways including but not limited to age, gender, ethnicity, theological training, years of ministry, and spiritual practice. They have arrived in response to our personal invitation.

Our goals are three-fold: 1) to support clergy in renewing their spiritual practice and their sense of call to pastoral ministry; 2) to form a monastery without walls that will strengthen relationships among clergy and sustain clergy spiritual vitality; and 3) to offer support for the cultivation of spiritual depth and vitality within their congregations.

The vision of Holy Wisdom Monastery is to welcome women and men from all faith backgrounds into sacred space and our community of communities to pray, study, and nourish one another for the sake of transforming lives and communities. Across many years pastors, ministers, spiritual leaders, and theological and biblical scholars have come to the monastery for spiritual renewal. Their ongoing presence within our community leads us to see that Holy Wisdom Monastery is uniquely experienced and equipped at this point in its history to create and facilitate an Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal. Giving back what we’ve been given, our intent is help clergy thrive in their ministry by nourishing the “monk within.”

E. Program Activities

The program of the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal consists of two components for each participant group: 1) two immersion experiences on site at Holy Wisdom Monastery and 2) participation for life in an ongoing ecumenical monastery without walls, a spiritual companioning community.

The two immersion experiences (summer and winter) take place the third week in June and the fourth week in January of the following calendar year. The summer immersions are eleven days in length and the winter immersions are five days in length, as reflected in the Immersion section of the proposal budget.

The first summer immersion begins Friday, June 21, 2019 at 3:00 pm and ends Monday, July 1, 2019 at 10:00 am. The first winter immersion for the same group of participants begins Friday, January 24, 2020 at 3:00 pm and ends Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 10:00 am. The summer and winter immersion pattern continues across years 2020 through 2023 with Lilly funding and beyond 2023 through other funding plans outlined in the Sustainability and Continuation section of this proposal.

Each immersion into the rhythms, people, and sacred space of Holy Wisdom Monastery focuses on the basic spiritual practices of this Benedictine monastery: silence, listening with the ear of the heart, prayer (Liturgy of the Hours and Sunday Assembly), study (Lectio Divina), and work. Each immersion is saturated with the Benedictine values of hospitality, beauty, balance, simplicity and respect for one another and all creation.

Time for deep personal reflection and renewal is built into the program through one-on-one spiritual direction, silence, solitude, walking the land, music, writing a personal Rule for Life, and art.

Time for the establishment of a group spiritual companioning community, a monastery without walls, is developed throughout the program by intentionally focused time with one or more guest facilitators, contemplative dialog, conversations about call and the challenges of ministry, informal ”tea”times for deepening friendship, and spiritual companion covenanting for a subsequent year/s.

A key element of our proposal is the ongoing support for clergy long after their immersion experience on site. To fulfill this commitment the Center will offer these ongoing opportunities: 1) participation in the monastery’s Liturgy of the Hours through a daily podcast; 2) participation in Sunday Assembly through live video streaming, also archived for later viewing; 3) video conferences for the monastery without walls members; 4) emailed daily reading from the Rule of Benedict and a monthly online Spiritual Companion Guide to support the conversation of the covenanted spiritual companions; 5) a monthly telephone call-in meditation that begins with a short reading followed by 30 minutes of silence and 10 minutes of reflection. Additional resources that foster clergy spiritual renewal, strengthen clergy relationships, and support congregational spiritual vitality will be developed throughout the life of the ECCSR. The proposal budget reflects purchasing the electronic equipment necessary to support the monastery without walls.

G. Expected Outcomes

The Benedictine Women of Madison expect to be held accountable for the creation, facilitation and ongoing programmatic and fiscal development of the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal.

The expected short-term outcomes for the ECCSR are: January 2019-July 2019

  1. the ECCSR is established at Holy Wisdom Monastery and staff are employed as outlined in the Leadership section of the proposal narrative,
  2. a comprehensive, measurable, strategic plan for operations, programming and sustainability  is created and implementation begins,
  3. the summer 2019 immersion experience is fully developed and hosted,
  4. the monastery without walls is established and provides regular contact between the ECCSR and the immersion cohorts. August 2019-January 2020
  5. evaluative information from facilitators, staff, and participants in the summer 2019 immersion is collected, interpreted, and acted upon,
  6. the winter 2020 immersion experience is fully developed and hosted,
  7. the monastery without walls continues regular contact with immersion cohorts and provides them with print, audio, and video resources.

The expected longer-term (2020-2023) outcomes for the ECCSR are:

  1. annual summer and winter immersion experiences are fully developed and hosted, serving 95 pastors in its first five years,
  2. the Center grows its expertise and expands its offerings to clergy and is well regarded nationally as an effective means of clergy spiritual renewal through the witness and testimony of its participants and partners in ministry,
  3. the monastery Without walls becomes a model of how to create and sustain life-long clergy peer groups as is evidenced by their testimony and ongoing member participation.

The expected outcomes for clergy participants are:

  1. a self-reported shift in values and priorities and an expansion of daily spiritual practice that results in a long-term renewed awareness of Presence and a fresh narrative of call,
  2. long-term spiritual companionship and spiritual practice support through the monastery without walls,
  3. deepening the spiritual life of their congregation by offering contemplative spiritual practices such as writing a Rule of Life, contemplative dialog, Lectio Divina, spiritual companioning, and spiritual direction.

The expected outcome for the Benedictine Women of Madison and people of Holy Wisdom Monastery is that our existing mission of welcoming all to explore contemplative spirituality for the sake of transforming lives and communities will be expanded and focused in intention on the spiritual needs of Christian clergy. Their presence among us brings us a new experience of living in community with them. This will be a blessing to us.

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