Nine YDS alumni look forward to renewal and reflection under Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program

During Holy Week one year, Noelle York-Simmons ’03 M.Div. preached a sermon on the Institution of the Eucharist where she talked about how our hands accept the Body and Blood then go into the world to be the hands of Christ.  This year York-Simmons will be visiting Episcopal churches across the country—she herself is a priest at All Saints’ Episcopal in Atlanta—photographing people's hands taking the Eucharist and interviewing them about what their hands do out in the world.

York-SimmonsOn Monday, Feb. 7, the day after the 2011 annual meeting of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chatham, MA, Brian McGurk ’92 M.Div., will board a plane bound for Los Angles to begin a four-month journey that will begin with taking an icon-writing and painting class, followed by time in New Zealand exploring liturgical practices there, especially with seacoast and Maori parishes, with some time on the side for fly-fishing excursions and guided tours.
Ruth (Mori) Douglas Merriam ’81 M.Div. of The Church on the Cape (United Methodist) in Kennebunkport, ME will immerse herself in the lives of two historical figures in 2011:  theologian John Wesley and Antarctica explorer Ernest Shackleton.  She will travel to Ireland, Shackleton’s home, and then to England, where Wesley lived.  From there, Merriam will head for Antarctica, where she will board a vessel owned by National Geographic, “The Explorer.” Her goal is twofold: to study how, in facing formidable obstacles, both Wesley and Shackleton were able to inspire the well-being of their followers; and to broaden her exploration to discover ways that the rest of us can meet the challenges of unwanted change.

ForanMeanwhile, Nancy Foran ’75 M.Div. of Raymond Village Community Church (UCC) in Raymond, ME, plans to create an outdoor labyrinth using ecologically sensitive landscaping techniques, spend time in Machu Picchu and its sister Peruvian city Choquequirao, find sacred moments in the wilds of Algonquin Park in Canada, take an inn-to-inn walking trek in Scotland along the Caledonian Canal, and do a week of pilgrimage at the Iona Community.

These latter-day pilgrims each serve congregations in the 2010 class of Lilly Endowment Inc.'s National Clergy Renewal Program, which also includes five other congregations served by YDS alumni.  Under the program, the Indianapolis-based Endowment provides Christian congregations with grants of up to $50,000 to support extended periods of intentional reflection and renewal for ministers that will have important impacts not only on the pastors but also on their congregations and communities.

“My activities will create and sustain a mediation on the nexus between sacred space and worship,” said Foran, who, like McGurk and York-Simmons, will integrate renewal time with family time.  “They balance relaxation, physical activity, and reflection, and give me a chance to travel to both new and familiar places, enhancing family connections in the process.”

Said McGurk, “A sabbatical is my opportunity for solitude; an intensive time for prayer, meditation and discernment as primary goals.  After nearly 20 years in the fast-passed life of an ordained minister, I crave the time for solitude and silence as well as time to reflect on the past and discern the course of my future ministry. “

For many of the participating clergy, according to Lilly Endowment, renewal time is seen as an excellent opportunity not only for spiritual and emotional renewal but to stay in shape physically as well.

Indeed, that is the case with York-Simmons.  Besides creating a book and gallery showing based on her hands-and-Eucharist project, she plans to train for, and then run in, the San Francisco marathon in July.

Other alumni participating in the program this year include: Jeanette A. Good ’77 M.Div., State Street Church (UCC), Portland, ME; Leonard E. Liptack ’01 M.Div., Faith Lutheran Church of Black Hammer (ELCA), Spring Grove, MN; Brian D. Maas ’89 M.Div., First Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA), Lincoln, NE; Sarah Rockwell ’93 M.Div., St. Peter’s Church (Episcopal), Londonderry, NH; and Kathy Wonson Eddy ’76 M.Div., Bethany Church (UCC), Randolph, VT.

According to the Endowment, this year’s 149 Clergy Renewal congregations announced on Dec. 6 are located in 40 states and the District of Columbia and are affiliated with 11 different denominational bodies.  Nearly half the congregations have between 100 and 400 people in the pews at Sunday worship, and eight report worship attendance of 1,000 or more.

Posted: 01/03/2011