If it feels like you don't know where you're going, that's okay. Here's something that can help you reflect on what God might have in store for you and your congregation.
Issue 6: February 2021

Patience: The Gift of Waiting We Need Right Now
by Holly W. Whitcomb

(See the “Questions to Ponder” guide at the end of this article)

The season of Coronovirus is getting very long. We survived “crisis fatigue” at the six-month mark, and now, at the eleven-month mark, we are experiencing “lockdown fatigue.”
Our waiting seems endless and we need patience now more than ever.
When we have to wait without knowing answers, without knowing what’s ahead, we are nudged into a new perspective. Waiting without immediate solutions presents us with an opportunity to lean into the not-knowing, to let go of unrealistic dreams or quick fixes, and to grow in patience.
Patience opens us to active waiting. “Don’t let the time do you. You do the time.” My hairdresser quoted these words to me some years ago as I was getting my hair cut. She waited for years for her son to be released from prison on an armed-robbery charge, and the waiting was terrible. She participated in a support group for family members whose loved ones were serving time. An ex-con who led the group said, “This is how we survive on the inside and how all of you can survive on the outside: Don’t let the time do you. You do the time.” This kind of active waiting is good advice for all of us who wait.

Too often we think of patience as equivalent to long-suffering, as some kind of passive acceptance. Patience is actually demanding, assertive, and complex. It calls for looking at the bigger picture and assessing timing and trade-offs. When we face an extended period of waiting, we have an opportunity to engage in a radical kind of patience that can take us beyond surviving, to thriving. We can partner with the waiting rather than treat it as an enemy. We can involve ourselves in an active waiting that opens doors, creates opportunities, and stretches our minds, bodies, and souls. While waiting may necessitate a certain powerlessness, this does not mean giving up intelligence, action, and hope. — So how do we engage in the spiritual practice of patience? How do we learn to actively wait?
First, we accept our not-knowing. This is really hard because we all prosper in certainty and predictability and we are accustomed to being in control. Right now we know that one person is dying of Coronavirus every six minutes in Los Angeles. Some of us have been vaccinated already and some of us have not and we don’t know if or when most people will be vaccinated. We don’t know when it will be safe for many of us to return in person to church. We don’t know if the United States will ever reach herd immunity. This not-knowing lies heavily on our spirits, and for our own sanity we need to learn how to abide in the not-knowing. The eventual acceptance of not-knowing is an enormous spiritual leap, and it is here that we need the Holy Spirit and to depend upon God.
Second, we practice patience by living in trust: of God, and of ourselves. When our not-knowing drives us crazy, we offer it up and ask God for perspective. In the process of letting go, the Serenity Prayer often helps. I pray this prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr all the time.  
Click to read the full article, then consider the Questions to Ponder.
Questions to Ponder
  • How is waiting teaching you patience right now?
  • What would you teach a young person about patience?
  • Since last March, what are you proudest of in your “active waiting?”
  • How can you grow more deeply into Not Knowing?
  • Where is God inviting you to grow in trust— of God, and of yourself?
  • How do you practice gratitude daily?
Rev. Holly Whitcomb, Director of Kettlewood Retreats and a graduate of Yale Divinity School and the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, is a widely traveled spiritual director and retreat leader who is currently doing a lot of spiritual direction and leadership of retreats on Zoom. Holly has written five books, but it is her last two books, “Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting” and “The Practice of Finding” which have been most popular during this season of Coronavirus and she has happily found herself doing Guest Author Zoom appearances around the country for churches who are studying her books.


Ministry of Spiritual Direction

More Information about Holly Whitcomb’s Ministry of Spiritual Direction: If you would like to learn more about Holly’s practice of spiritual direction and retreat leadership, visit her website at kettlewoodretreats.com, or contact her at hwwhitcomb@gmail.com or 262-784-5593.
What Is Spiritual Direction? "Spiritual direction is sometimes referred to as spiritual guidance, spiritual friendship or spiritual companionship. It is an ongoing relationship in which you (the directee) seek to be attentive to your spiritual life by meeting with another person (the director) on a regular basis (approximately once a month), specifically for the purpose of becoming more attuned to God’s Presence in all of life." from the brochure on "Contemplative Spiritual Direction" published by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. (shalem.org). The cost of spiritual direction is negotiated with the spiritual director. 
Other Spiritual Directors in the Wisconsin Conference: Along with Holly Whitcomb, Julie Garber is available to talk with you about spiritual direction, and welcomes new directees. Like Holly, Julie is a graduate of the Shalem Institute of Spiritual Direction, as well as their retreat leadership program. Julie can be reached at 715-577-7372 or via email at garberj0@gmail.com.
Additional Spiritual Directors in the Conference? If you are a member of a UCC Church or a clergy person in the Conference and are a trained spiritual director and would like people to be aware of your ministry, please email Rev. Dr. Timothy Perkins at perkdrews@aol.com, and we will include you on our list.
Referrals: Holly and Julie are also willing to refer you to other spiritual directors who they know and appreciate.
Tools for Nurturing Active Waiting
Holly Whitcomb's article lifts up the importance of “active waiting.” The Wisconsin Conference offers several programs that can provide support to congregations as they move to and through the process of re-entry and re-orientation following the pandemic. Congregations taking this time of "pausing from business as usual" can benefit from entertaining active waiting for the opportunity to determine what ministry(ies) God is calling them to as they move forward. “Five Practices”, “Readiness 360” and “Appreciative Inquiry” are processes that give congregations the ability to take a look at who they are and what of the past they want to bring forward to answer God’s call in the future. 


Centering Prayer
As we move into the Lenten season with the uncertainty of the COVID Pandemic still with us, this could be a good time to explore or delve deeper into a time-honored practice for listening for the heart of God. Below is the beginning of a February 6th article by Carl McColman about Centering Prayer with a link to the vast resources of Contemplative Outreach. (Search the App Store for the Centering Prayer app which enables you to receive guidance in your daily practice of Centering Prayer.) You can access the complete article here.

What is Centering Prayer? Centering Prayer is a contemporary method of Christian spiritual practice that is based on teachings from ancient Christian mystics. It is based on a recognition of silence and stillness as doorways into prayer and intimacy with God.
The Method of Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is, properly speaking, not a form of contemplative prayer, but rather a method of prayer that helps the praying person to prepare and consent to the gift of contemplation. It is a method of prayer that fosters interior silence and stillness: a prayerful way of responding to the call of the Psalms: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

The method of centering prayer involves four simple guidelines. These guidelines were developed by Thomas Keating and the leadership of Contemplative Outreach International; you can find them summarized on their website.


Building Your Resilience
While we may feel bounced around with the ups and downs and uncertainties about the duration of the COVID Pandemic, we are all wondering what it will take to bounce back from these challenging times. An article from the American Psychological Association provides helpful suggestions for nurturing and building our resilience through difficult times. Following is an excerpt:
“Life may not come with a map, but everyone will experience twists and turns, from everyday challenges to traumatic events with more lasting impact, like the death of a loved one, a life-altering accident, or a serious illness. Each change affects people differently, bringing a unique flood of thoughts, strong emotions and uncertainty. Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful situations—in part thanks to resilience.
Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves 'bouncing back' from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.
While these adverse events, much like rough river waters, are certainly painful and difficult, they don’t have to determine the outcome of your life. There are many aspects of your life you can control, modify, and grow with. That’s the role of resilience. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way.” 

Recommended Resources
WEBINAR: Pastoring in the Age of Conspiracies and Disinformation, Tuesday, March 16, 2021 at 6 pm. This online event is a panel discussion that will be co-moderated by the Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Lexington Theological Seminary & Clergy Emergency League; and the Rev. Kerri Parker, Executive Director of the WI Council of Churches. Panelists include: Rachel Bernstein, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with expertise in cults, and the Rev. Heather Hunnicutt, a UCC pastor who is also a licensed professional counselor with expertise in cult recovery, religious and spiritual trauma, intellectual giftedness, and faith integration for persons in LGBTQ+ communities. A donation is requested, but not required. Register here>

CONFERENCE SUPPORTIVE MINISTRIES RESOURCES: In addition to the direct support to pastors and congregations provided by Wisconsin Conference staff, here are some of the supportive ministries services and programs congregations can take advantage of. Follow the link below to learn more about this programs and how your church might benefit.
  • Conflict Transformation
  • Coaching Partners
  • Grants and assistance programs
  • Communities of Practice for Clergy or Faith Formation
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations
  • Readiness 360
View a comprehensive list with more information about Supportive Ministries offerings.
Photo of Supportive Ministries Task Force
Supportive Ministries Task Force
Through this communication, the Wisconsin Conference Supportive Ministries Task Force will provide articles, discussion guides and other resources for clergy and congregations on coping and thriving as we navigate the current turbulent waters. Supportive Ministries Task Force members include (from top left) Bob Ullman, Lisa Hart, Bonnie Andrews, Cathleen Wille and Tim Perkins.

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