Last January, I was given an enormous gift. As a part of a three-year ministry peer cohort, I was gifted a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I had no idea how much I needed this experience. In nurturing the spiritual life of a new community of faith, I had neglected my own.
Starting a church was never even on my list of possible pursuits when I graduated from the McAfee School of Theology in 2008. Of course, as an occupational therapist and married mom of two children, seminary had not exactly been on my radar either. The idea of church starting began as a casual conversation and was re-visited on numerous occasions. I did not see myself as much of an entrepreneur, nor did I see myself fitting into what has traditionally been a male-dominated arena. It was not until I started listening to the voices around me and looking at the larger story of my calling that I began to see all of the potential beauty and excitement involved in cultivating a new church.
Looking back over the past five years of planting and pastoring The Well at Springfield in Jacksonville, Florida, there has been plenty of beauty and excitement. I have watched as people of various faith traditions, life stages and identities have grown to love one another and learn from each other. I have listened to stories of how spiritual refugees have finally found a place of love and belonging, a safe place to grow in their faith. I have marveled at how a small group of Jesus followers can make such an impact in our fragmented neighborhood through collaboration and resourcefulness. I have made friends, shared milestones, baptized new believers, and shared in rich moments of worship and formation with this new family of mine.
It’s been a beautiful thing to be a part of, and while I am even more aware that God is the one holding it all together, can I be honest with you? I’ve worked really hard. I’ve initiated more meetings, introductions, meals, partnerships, messages, structures, slogans, community projects, and social media posts than I can count. I’ve dealt with critiques, cold shoulders, and complaints. Such is the life of a pastor, I know. I did not say yes to church starting thinking it would be all roses. Still. It’s been tough at times, and that can take a toll.
The pilgrimage to Israel nourished me in a way that I still can’t put into words. As if it’s not enough to walk where Jesus walked, for a change, I was allowed to be a follower and not the one in charge. Feeling run down gave way to renewal. Worry turned to wonder. Trying too hard transformed into letting go a little more and learning to follow a little better.
The pilgrimage is a gift that I am still experiencing a year later. It has opened my eyes to how crucial it is that in the ebb and flow of this adventure–in the beauty, excitement and disappointment–I find ways to stay nourished. It’s not an option, and it’s not just for my own sake. It’s for my family’s sake, for the sake of this community of faith, and dare I say, for the sake of the kingdom of God.