by Anita Wright
When we entered the opening gathering for the May Mission & Ministries Commission meeting, we were told to bring our chairs into the inner part of the room. There we sat in a semi-circle. It created a discomfort around the room because it was not what we were used to doing. Everyone waited for the activity to begin…and you could feel the palpable tension as we waited for this activity to be over so we could return to our normal seats. Yet, it never happened. As I squelched my complaints about why this did not create a productive meeting space in which I could take notes for my reporting, I began to shift my perspective. I began to fully engage the process at hand. This was no longer an activity to be endured, but I could see the value in it.
The Synod leaders had a crazy idea. They decided to suspend the normal way of meeting and replaced it with a retreat. This retreat focused solely on how the Synod carries out its mission and ministry through its understanding of Matthew 25:31-46. We spent the weekend engaging in a lectio divina reading and study of the text. In the first portion of our time together, we explored what we discovered in the text. Then we went a little deeper and examined ways in which we saw ourselves (and our personal work) through this text. What were the challenges? What was the text challenging us to do? At the very end of this session, we were asked to think about this text in light of the Synod’s work. How did we see the Synod working to embody service to ‘the least of these’? What were some ways in which the Synod needed to expand its work to embody service to the ‘least of these’?
Everything after this session was through the lens of the text. The most invigorating part of the retreat was as the working groups met. Each working group did not go about business as usual but was asked to be intentional about how they approached their work. Each group was tasked with seeing their actions as either meeting the demands of the righteous or of those who were deemed accursed in Matthew 25. Were our actions aiding in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned? If not, we were challenged with the opportunity to do that. This was a novel way of doing the work of the Synod Commission; yet, it was completely rewarding.
The weekend culminated as we explored Matthew 25:31-46 through play. In an innovative assignment, each group was given the instruction to use the art supplies (crayons, color pencils, scissors, magazines, glue, etc.) to create a visual depiction of its groups work as understood from Matthew 25. One group created a wreath of hands with photos of the least of these that it serves. Another group created a visual collage of the its mission. The final group created a board game depicting how it serves the ‘least of these’ through its granting process.
In a final evaluation, it was a wonderful retreat. I suppose the planners were intentional in getting us out of our usual spaces and creating a divine discomfort that forced us to think differently. Kudos!!
The Rev. Anita Wright is the Synod’s Mission & Ministries Commission member from the Presbytery of Newark. She serves as the pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montclair, NJ (Newark) and has also recently been called as the chaplain to Bloomfield College.