Stand By Me

Tonight as I return from our second rest retreat in Arizona, a few days when we all sat around in the desert in awe of each other’s company and in awe of the goodness of rest — I am reflecting on what I’ve learned about caring for leaders.

Over the past two years Aaron and I have spent hundreds of hours on zoom calls with faith leaders all over the world. We’ve listened to their loneliness, their exhaustion and grief. We’ve done our best to connect people, to offer hope, and to fill the role of coach and pastor to them as best as we knew how amidst our own pain and loneliness and fear. We’ve learned how badly they need a space like this retreat to allow them to simply be, to make choices out of their own spiritual needs and longings and not because they are responsible for others. They need space as leaders to simply rest and be reminded they are not alone.

Two years ago, almost to the day, about 13 of us gathered in person at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, AZ. We talked about Covid, wondering whether it would come to the US and what was in store. None of us could’ve imagined that ten days later our churches would be closed for in-person worship. Now here we are gathering again, almost as if it’s a bookend (I hope) to these two years of pandemic life. Our bodies and hearts intuitively found ways to ritualize the moment. We laughed so hard, we burst into song, we ate at the same restaurants and ordered the same cocktails as if we were paying homage to our former selves. And we marveled at all the amazing new leaders who we met amidst the chaos and who were joining us this week.

Despite so much despair, so much challenge in the world, our circle has grown. We have so many more incredible people in our lives. People who are faithfully leading, who are launching new imaginative ways of being in community, people who are intentionally passing power on to the next generation of leaders.

Gratitude and awe are the best words to describe what the leaders this week have us. As we sat around the bonfire on our last night together, one leader raised her voice in song with the perfect “hymn” to close us out, the American classic “stand by me.”

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No, I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand
Stand by me

It’s been stuck in my head ever since.

The world needs more inclusive, Jesus-following, antiracist, love & justice-generating communities.