Happy New Year!

Recently I’ve been focusing on the communal nature of Epiphany. Especially after taking a solo trip to Croatia and surrounding countries on my two-month sabbatical last fall (more about that in a different newsletter), I’ve been pondering what it means to journey together.

The holy family. The wise men. Later, Jesus and the disciples. No one traveled alone.

This resonates with me because I know what I see and what I too have experienced: So many pastors feel they are alone.

This morning I was reading a blog by the brilliant Kendra Creasy Dean on the struggle adults have to find and make friends. She quoted the joke that “Jesus’s greatest miracle was that he had 12 best friends in his 30s!”

Kendra notes, “Jesus had 12 BFFs in his 30s because he chose to have them.” They ate and drank together. They moved around together. They talked about changing the world together. They chose to do life together.

If I could wave a magic wand all the pastors everywhere would have good friends.  They would not feel alone. (Of course, I would want no one to feel alone.)

Back when I was a youth pastor, I remember Rodger Nishioka making the case for why lock-ins and retreats were so powerful in gluing youth groups together.  He said that it took something like 40 hours for new friendships to happen. (Hint: I think this rings true for adults as well – event us introverts — and it’s why most SOLT events are usually about 40 hours in length!)

Here’s a short story or two of hope.

Last summer, I decided it was time to make some friends in the city in which I live. And I chose to join a Facebook group for women in the area wanting to make friends. Then I chose to plan a meet and greet at a beer garden and invited some of the women to show up. Yes, I brought my dog Lucy for backup. And a few women joined me! From that first gathering, it was a true connection. Looking back, I sense God’s fingerprints all over it. Over the months and seasons we have gone to concerts together, shared meals together, gotten our dogs together. We went to “Barbie” together. They’re the people I can text when I need to borrow a truck for a rug I bought on Facebook Marketplace. I can check in with them if I’m feeling a little lost. I feel connected to the world through them.

Likewise, my wise neighbor Marilyn has also become a life-giving friend. We met during my sabbatical through our neighborhood association. Now we share our lives together in the moments when she’s not galivanting around the country and I’m not working. We’re so different. I’m single with no kids – and Marilyn, almost an octogenarian, has a husband and kids and grands and all the things. She tells me about the time she was part of a cult in Colorado and how she ultimately wound up in Indianapolis and got her counseling degree. She’s lived in the neighborhood about as long as I’ve been alive, and she shares its history. We’ve found so much in common, Marilyn and I – a love for animals and koi ponds and the writings of Richard Rohr. I love how she shares openly about ways she has failed. How she has made sense of her life soothes my soul in a way I didn’t even know I needed.

I’m reminded of a quote from the Midrash: “If I am not for myself then who will be? But if I am only for myself, then who am I?”

Our vocation is to be for others and to do for others. But, there’s a balance between that calling and showing self-care to ourselves. I am learning to be a better friend to myself and with myself. How are you striving toward that balance? How can SOLT support you on that journey?

I care about you so much, pastors and church leaders in SOLT. I wholeheartedly support you in whatever goals for intentional relationships and friendships and togetherness you set for yourself in 2024.

My prayer is that you feel healthy and full. You are enough. Your synod loves you and sees the beloved creature of God that you are.

What a joy to accompany you along this journey through Epiphany and beyond. You are not alone.

With gratitude,