February 19, 2014

Gear up now for annual clergy retreat

"Fussin' and flappin' in priestly black like a murder of crows"  --Sting
If you have received an invitation to the annual clergy retreat, as I have; and if you have returned your diocese's forms and sent in your fee for said event, as I have; and if you have made real-live plans to go, as I have: and if you have a decade of these things under your belt, as I do; and if all this is to happen soon, and possibly sooner than seems controllable or judicious: then start thinking ahead now so as to mentally unclutter the right head-space for this annual event.


  • That razor-thin sweet spot between Scotch that is passably good and Scotch that is passably affordable: or, how to contribute to an after-hours conversation so that you are not seen to be merely mooching hooch but genuinely moving things along: or, take beer because it is cheaper. (My apologies if this violates your vision of what a Clergy Retreat is, or can be.) 
  • Which colors of sweaters look good next to a stone fireplace when the subject is earnest conversation about the future of your denomination, vis-à-vis which colors of mismatched socks can communicate your seeming whimsical detachment from the world of material things and people.
  • Noncommittal phraseology that doesn't really go anywhere. (Bonus: how to give answers to legitimate questions that only produce more befuddlement, or what you have come to lovingly refer to as following Jesus' rabbinical style of answering a question with a question.)
  • Mooing in unison when people say things that sound profound. Especially when there's no time to stop and think about what they mean first. Say it with me: MMMmmm....
  • Attendance at worship, and having some cash on hand when the plate comes around. Let's say ones, fives, tens -- having broken your twenty at the gas station on the way in -- and hundreds just being gauche.
  • How to ask for the wireless password with flair-less nonchalance. (Cf. How to play around on an iPad the whole time.)
  • Whether to show up in a collar, looking can't-be-bothered busy, and still smelling of hospital antiseptic owing to a last-minute pastoral visitation. (N.B.: If you had to drive three hours to get here, you're not fooling anyone.)
CLERGY RETREAT DON'Ts: For the good Lord's sake, never ever do these things --
  • DON'T say, "Where are you now?" to your fellow clergy. It's embarrassing; but it's also the number one thing anyone ever says at Clergy Retreat -- especially in the chow line. You asked the same person the same question last year and it didn't stick then. Wait for the subject to arise and file the information away when it is spoken, or take a clergy directory and a map with you to Clergy Retreat. As a general rule, gentle friend -- 
    • DON'T pretend you know someone you don't already know just because you can't remember who he or she is. Your cover gets blown pretty fast.
  • DON'T employ phrases that make other clergy dewy-eyed but don't actually go anywhere once you shake them down a little. The use of any theological term you had to use in a seminary paper but haven't had to use since (say, "paranesis" said casually, as a one-off) is probably off-limits.
  • DON'T dazzle the guest speaker with how much more you know than he/she does. Cut him/her some slack. (Assume exhaustion, healthy fear, and rational skepticism on his/her part.) He/she didn't spend six months planning this and two days on airplanes just to have an extended tête-à-tête with the one contrarian in the bunch who wanted a question and one quick follow-up and just one more quick follow-up after that.
  • DON'T talk about how absolutely great everything has been in the past twelve months at your parish/congregation/gig (unless it really genuinely has been, God bless you), and by the same token, don't do a ton of humblebragging, which is transparent and gross. And, in the same way --
  • DON'T talk about how absolutely hideous and hard everything has been for the past year. These people love you, but they don't have to hang on your every word. Not only that: these events take a few days to spin out fully, and they have their own rhythms. There is always time for the majority of the story to come forth.
  • DON'T remark about how There sure are a lot of gray heads here this year, Ha Ha. It doesn't serve the purpose and it makes a lot of people feel bad for no good reason.
  • DON'T ask for too much sideline time with the Bishop. He/she already spends a lot of his/her time in conversations with people who thought they might just ask for five minutes in case they saw him/her, and five minutes at 9 p.m. turned into the Bishop getting into bed around 2:30 a.m., five hours after which there was an expectation to be fresh and on point for Morning Prayer.
Finally, DO have FUN and get some time for REFRESHMENT at your Clergy Retreat, no matter the diocese, time, or place.

Okay -- get busy.

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