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Climbing a Hill, Catching a Breath

The Catch Your Breath Sabbatical for Carla and the congregation concludes this month. Along with community yoga classes, centering prayer sessions, and intentional breathing in worship (not to mention Carla’s multi-faceted summer), a sabbatical retreat for church members happened at Richmond Hill.

Ten of us stepped away from our regular lives one Friday afternoon in July and up into the beautiful retreat and worship center on the edge of Church Hill. Richmond Hill looks out over downtown Richmond nearby the falls of the James River – whence came the city’s origins 400 years ago – and its community lives out a mission of praying for all of metropolitan Richmond. We first gathered for evening prayers, the last of three daily prayer services that precede each community meal. The services are simple and quietly powerful. Communities, leaders, and governing boards are named and prayed for – the specific localities shifting through the week. We later learned that the community had been praying for GPPC throughout the week in advance of our arrival!

We met often in the West Room, spaciously windowed on three sides and offering views across the river, down into the business district, and out toward our church neighborhood. Matthew Freeman led us in discussion and reflection. He works as a group facilitator, and so was the only one of us not to leave his day job behind. Matthew was generous in the time he returned to us for self-reflection, enjoying the beautiful grounds, and taking naps. Our time together involved sharing stories of coming to GPPC; where we each find purpose, meaning, and refreshment; and our hopes for our church.

Much as we took turns going ’round the room, here are after-reflections from the retreaters:

A sabbatical is a break from the work of one’s life, a time to focus on inner renewal, a caring for one’s self, a deep breath.  What a great place Richmond Hill is for taking that deep breath, for finding places to relax (body and spirit), and to think and commune with God.  I came away from my weekend experience knowing that, both personally and collectively as a church, we must make that time in our lives for rest and reflection or we won’t have it in us to be about God’s work in the world. – Sally Molenkamp

I came away with a better understanding of Sabbath and the need to create (and give myself permission to create) a space to rediscover and reconnect with activities that provide me renewal and joy. I also learned that sabbatical rest is a spiritual discipline and must be approached intentionally like any other, such as meditation and prayer. Finally, I learned perhaps one of the greatest lessons of all: that “Cradle Presbyterians” exist and that the Missouri Synod Lutherans do not mess around. – Mike Landefeld

We found ourselves creating mini-sabbaticals – time to assess our lives and think of what drains us, what gives us energy, what gives our individual lives meaning, followed by conversation about our lives at GPPC and what we’d like to carry back to our life together.  At Richmond Hill, the trains and interstate traffic pass close by but the center is calming.  We had air-conditioned rooms, bathrooms for which we didn’t have to wait in line, good food, meaningful and refreshing conversation.  Each of us felt we had been gifted by our retreat.  – Eleanor Workman

Things that stand out to me: the beauty and peace of Richmond Hill, including the Novitiate room; singing in the restored chapel; praying for the city of Richmond; appreciating the amazing GPPC members, some old friends and some new ones, who came together to reflect, learn from each other, and experience sabbatical rest. I came away renewed and refreshed, and so grateful to GPPC for this opportunity and for our church community. – Ann Hamric

Having a whole weekend implanted the idea of the flow of God’s time. Taking time for prayer and worship three times a day meant that the entire day was rich with meaning and connection to God. Walking the labyrinth reminded me that working my way into God’s presence is really just opening my spirit to a divine power that is present at all times. When we took time to examine our own lives and find the events or tasks that strengthen our spirit and those that stress it, I again looked at my own use of time and what God is calling me to do and be. Although I have been given the gift of more time since I retired, I have not reveled in it and enjoyed God’s rest. This retreat allowed me to laugh with the good souls who also took time to be there and to rethink how I relate to my church and its people. What a wonderful gift the committee and Carla and the Lilly Foundation gave to us. – Mary Frances Hobbs

The glow of the weekend is still with me. I feel blessed to have been a part of that special time! – Tom McMahon

It truly was a blessed experience. In addition to the simple but powerful worship/prayer services, the insightful group discussions and personal reflection time, the company of wonderful friends, the delicious food prepared by the Richmond Hill staff (including nightly popcorn), and the beauty of the lovely campus, some of us had the bonus opportunity to chat at breakfast with Richmond Hill’s spiritual leader, the Rev. Ben Campbell, and to hear his passion for continuing to address race relations and poverty issues in the Richmond region, including the public transportation initiatives that he and others are supporting. I am encouraged about the possibilities of how we at GPPC might work more closely with and support the ministries of Richmond Hill, and I’m grateful for the Lilly Foundation grant that has made all our sabbatical experiences possible.  Thanks again to Carla and all the talented individuals who were a part of the grant proposal. I am encouraged that our collective sabbatical experiences will yield significant dividends in support of our mission and values as we continue to do God’s work in our community. – David Ross

Spending a weekend with my church family reflecting on how to find balance in life was itself an act that helped us find rest and refreshment. I came away inspired, refreshed, and with renewed enthusiasm about our church, its people, and its role as a sanctuary for those of us doing the hard work building God’s kingdom in an often hostile and indifferent world.  -Matthew Freeman

Any from this group would be glad to share more about their experience, and all affirmed the value of a repeat event, involving more of our membership. Meanwhile, please be aware that sabbatical grant funds are designated for church members who would like to schedule a personal retreat at Richmond Hill, either guided or self-directed. That’s a wonderful opportunity to spend reflective time in a unique and beautiful place. Contact the church office for details.

Alfred Walker

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