The First Presbyterian Church in Chili (Chili First) received a grant of $31,820.00 to enable its minister, Rev. Brandi Wooten, and congregation to participate in the 2022 National Clergy Renewal Program. Chili First is one of 168 congregations across the United States selected to participate in this competitive grant program, which is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., and administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Established by the Endowment in 2000, the program’s grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.
The approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite from the demands of daily ministry to engage in reflection and renewal. It also is committed to recognizing that this time of renewal is not only for the pastor but for the congregation as a whole. Therefore, included in the grant application are plans for how the congregation will shape its sabbatical time.
The theme of Chili First’s time of renewal is “Visio Divina: Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart.” Visio Divina means “sacred looking” or “divine seeing.” The focal scripture text is Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it sprouts up. Don’t you recognize it?” For Chili First’s purposes, the technique of Visio Divina includes noticing God sightings and practicing divine seeing by pausing, which will give the space to behold God’s creations, see others the way God sees them, and reflect on where God’s holy presence is already at work in their lives. Pastor Brandi’s activities will largely revolve around the practice of integrating art and spirituality through watercolor painting, photography, and art journaling as well as a family trip to Italy for two weeks (a place known for its art, history and beauty.) Many of the activities the congregation hopes to accomplish focus on pausing, noticing and reflecting. One of the goals is to use the church’s outdoor labyrinth space for further renewal and to notice and reflect on God’s creations in nature. Another focus is to connect with others more deeply. Activities include a renewal potluck, meditation or yoga classes in the labyrinth, and devotional nature walks at local parks. Another important concept for this time of renewal is the pause or reduction of the workload of the church boards. Because of their valuable role, the aim is to give these groups permission to pause so they are afforded the same opportunity to focus on spiritual wellness, reflection and rest.
Dr. Robert Saler, director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, noted that the National Clergy Renewal Program integrates key attributes of healthy congregations, including a mutual respect for the renewal needs of both ministers and the congregations they serve.