Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Taking a break

by Stephen Crippen

For the last six years or so, I've been in discernment and formation for the vocation of deacon in the Episcopal Church. These years have been demanding in many ways: discernment meetings, classes, internships, ember letters, a highly challenging chaplaincy, weekends away from partner, profession, and puppy dogs, and the expenditure of many thousands of dollars. I even went to New Orleans.

And now, I am one exegesis exam and one candidacy review from ordination. I've been working this summer with Bishop Greg Rickel as he discerns where he might send me to serve as a new deacon in November. I feel excited. I am eager to serve in the order of deacons.

But I'm tired. I want a break. I noticed this first in early June, when I finished my chaplaincy internship at Harborview, a Christian ethics class, and an internship with the Millionair Club, all in the same week. Since then, I've found it very hard to focus on things Church. I've upped my workouts, started reading the Stieg Larsson novels, focused on my private practice, and yes, Facebooked a lot more. Meanwhile, I'm being told by deacons in the formation program that I'm supposed to pull back from St. Paul's as I prepare for my diaconal assignment later in the fall.

All of this reminded me of something Bishop Greg said at a Convention one year. He was talking about his high interest in the under-35 age group, and his belief that the Church ignores the under-35 group at its own peril. But he also said this (not a direct quote): not only is it normal for teenaged and early-20's men and women to step away from the Church for a time, but if they don't, he thinks...well, he thinks it's kind of weird. You should take breaks from time to time. It's a mark of a healthy spiritual life to go through periods of withdrawal, inactivity, even frivolity.

And I admit it: I was one of the weirdos. I moved through high school, college, and my young professional life without missing more than one Sunday in a row. I worked a dozen years as a church musician, then almost immediately began discerning my diaconal call. I've never pulled back.

And that's not healthy. I asked my partner what he thought about a fairly significant pull-back in September and October, as we prepare for my ordination around Halloween. "That'd be great," he said. (He's pretty tired, too, since he has supported me so fully through all of this.)

Will we not go to church at all? I really doubt it. But even sitting in the pews would be a major step back for me. And I think Bishop Greg is right. Like Jesus himself, who often wandered off by himself or into the wilderness to get away from the burdens of his ministry, we too are invited to let it go for a while, watch the grass grow, and rest.

Let's see if I can actually pull this off.

Stephen Crippen is a couples counselor and member of St. Paul's. His professional blog is here.

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