September 30, 2021 by Rev. Shannon White
Last January, I celebrated 30 years of ordained ministry. This past year and a half have left me pulling on every ounce of experience of that history, learning new things, and needing to draw on my spiritual resources as never before. Like many other pastors across the country, this period (of Covid and racial reckoning) has left me depleted, exhausted and wondering how I would even continue in ministry. Even though I loved my then-current congregation (8 ½ years in), and the work I did there, I had come to realize that so much of the pivoting we all have had to do was at times more than I could handle.
I spent time in deep prayer and meditation, asking God to show me the way forward. I listened to friends and had some professional coaching. I dove into the scriptures. Fortunately, the lectionary during that time had me land on Psalm 23.
In Psalm 23, the writer reminds us that God sustains, provides, and cares for God's very own not once, not twice, but time and time again – when the people fled out from bondage in Egypt and wandered. When they returned from Exile and continued as a people, they were led by God. Psalm 23 reminds us that goodness can pursue us in the good times as well as in times of sorrow and pain – even in the valley of the shadow of death. AND Psalm 23 serves as a reminder that even when we live in the face of the most grave of situations that might surround us, we will be sustained. I needed to hear that.
Many of us had travel plans interrupted over this last year and a half. Last year, I was supposed to have gone to Portland, Oregon, for a conference on Transitional Ministry. The conference was to have been held at the Menucha Center. Interesting name. Although it was canceled and offered online by the fabulous leaders of Seattle Presbytery, I was fascinated to learn that the word “Menucha” comes from Psalm 23.
Verses 2-3 of the Psalm says, He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. The leaders of the Menucha Center said that the word, for which their center is named is Hebrew and is used in this Psalm for the word “still.” It is meant to convey a sense of “rebuilding,” “renewing,” or “restoring.” So … we may say God leads you/me beside renewing, rebuilding and restoring waters. God restores your/my soul.
Given that Hurricane Ida recently ripped up the Eastern Coast, many may cringe at the idea waters can indeed be restorative. But over this year and a half, God has indeed taken me on a path which has rebuilt, renewed and restored me, and it looked very different from what I had anticipated it would. I realized that I had done the work God had called me to do in that congregation. It was time for the next visionary leader to take the reins and lead them. After my departure, I took three months to rest and be still … to replenish … and I am now on to the next chapter in ministry. For me, that means a part-time associate combined with a training program that will allow me to do significant transformational work with people through the Hoffman Institute.
The lessons of this time are still being handed to us right now, and they will look different for each person/congregation. There are constant opportunities to stop, to look and be still and to face all that we hide from ourselves and one another. Those lessons are begging for our attention. The questions for us this day: How are you allowing God to renew, restore and rebuild your soul amid these times of challenge and uncertainty and change? How will you let God use this time to move and change you, both individually and professionally in your ministry?
Rev. Shannon White has served four congregations in Connecticut and New York over 30 years of ordained ministry. In the middle of that period, she also was a TV reporter in suburban New York for nine years, earning two Emmy nominations. She is the author of two books: The Invisible Conversations with Your Aging Parents and How Was School Today? Fine. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with her husband and her daughter – a recent college graduate. Rev. White is currently in a two-year training process to be a teacher with the Hoffman Institute, which guides people in a week-long transformational Process involving the body, mind, intellect and spirit.