Not alone

"Being together is reason enough to be together." Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

“Being together is reason enough to be together.”
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Dana Cassell

Being a pastor is a lonely gig. Just ask your own pastor, if you dare. It’s a big job to be present for so many people’s every spiritual and emotional need, and at the same time, be unable to share openly with them about your own.

So it was refreshing to gather with 43 others at last month’s Church of the Brethren Clergy Women’s Retreat. We laughed, prayed, played in the Pacific, and thought intentionally about friendship, fellowship… and the lack thereof.

But pastors aren’t alone in loneliness. Melissa Wiginton guided our conversation about togetherness, and she shared a study by UCLA that says 30 percent of Americans self-identify as lonely at any given moment. Even more striking? Three out of every five American adults over the age of 45 feel consistently lonely.

What does this mean for ministry, for the church, for our own discipleship?

A couple of things. First, as I watch my own congregation delight in simple fellowship—sharing a meal, or conversation after worship—I am convinced that the church’s mission is, at base, to provide space and invitation for people to enter into deep, Christ-centered relationship.

And second, I’m struck by how restorative it was to spend time with other clergy women. The opportunity to simply be with others who are also out there, doing this lonely, beautiful work of ministry was a blessing.

Part of the gift of our Brethren tradition is the assumption that being together is reason enough to be together. This is a gift that we can share, a ministry in itself.

So next time you go to church, take a minute to thank your pastor or another leader in your congregation. And then take a step further and bring that blessing to the streets. Sometimes all it takes is eye contact and a smile for the cashier across the counter, or a classmate in the hall, to feel less alone. Imagine the blessing that a church on this kind of mission could be to a culture so filled with lonely people.

Dana Cassell is minister for Youth Formation at Manassas Church of the Brethren in Virginia. She was one of several participants in the Clergy Women’s Retreat last month, which was sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Ministry. To support this and other uplifting denominational ministries, visit .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

The lesson of the Malibu tile

Malibu tile decorating the Serra Retreat Center

Malibu tile decorating the Serra Retreat Center

– Blogging from the Clergy Women’s Retreat

Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, Calif., where Brethren clergy women are meeting this week, is decorated with the most wonderful tiles. They are set in walls and floors and railings and garden paths.

The tiles were saved after the Malibu Potteries tile factory burned in 1931. According to a history of Serra, 9,000 boxes of tile were salvaged and stored away. The tiles were put into use when the Franciscans purchased the abandoned Rindge family mansion, and the building was completed as a retreat center. But in 1970 another fire destroyed the building. Tiles were once again retrieved and salvaged, and now add color and beauty to a rebuilt center.

In some places tiles are formally placed, and showcased with care. In other places, like one of the garden paths, pieces of broken tiles are strewn in a kind of crazy quilt, no less beautiful than their formally placed kin.

Our retreat leader, Melissa Wiginton, has commented that she loves the values of the Church of the Brethren. She asked us, what are the God-given gifts or values that we Brethren caretake? She named this a “hermeneutic of retrieval,” meaning that our calling as a church is to make sure these values–these gifts from God–are retrieved from the past and available in the future.

Women have been using a hermeneutic of retrieval for a long time. The classic example, of course, is quilting. For generations, women retrieved bits of cloth that were still good, cutting them out of old clothes that were no longer wearable, to sew together into something new and useful and beautiful. A bit of that old summer dress that you loved so much you wore it out, was salvaged from the rag pile to grace the corner of the quilt on the guestbed that helped welcome visitors to your home.

Women don’t do this only through quilting. How many pairs of jeans, rendered unwearable by holes in the knees or stains on the hems, have shown up the next summer as shorts? How many yogurt cartons are washed and show up later in the fridge holding leftovers?

My husband has a hermeneutic of retrieval as a handyman. He saves old pieces of wood and parts of machines and household hardware that he acquires along the way, in case he can re-use them. A set of hinges on an old door that he replaced for a client, for example, may reappear where needed to put a sagging door back in place, right and true.

It’s going to take women and men working together to caretake the gifts entrusted to our church. When Melissa asked what gifts God has given Brethren, the group responded by naming peace, service, community, simplicity, women in ministry, humility, continuing the work of Jesus. I wonder, what other gifts should be added to this list?

And what will the Brethren gifts look like after they are retrieved and made into something new in the future? Will the Brethren values be beautifully formalized? Or strewn about with abandon to become a spiritual version of a crazy quilt? Will future generations see them set in the philosophical walls and spiritual foundations of the worldwide Christian movement?

None of that we can know. Our present job is to take care of our church’s gifts. We must pick out the bits of beauty and usefulness in the old cloth, and keep them for the new quilt to piece tomorrow. We must keep an eye out for the old set of hinges that will polish up beautifully, to put the door to the future in place, right and true.

Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Director of News Services
Church of the Brethren

‘I knew that we would all be kindred spirits’

–Blogging from the Church of the Brethren Clergy Women’s Retreat

“I knew that we would all be kindred spirits,” said our worship leader tonight. She gave a presentation on a recent trip to the island of Iona, and said she had been looking forward to this Clergy Women’s Retreat while there and had prayed for the women who would come to this retreat. She brought small stones from Iona to give to each participant.

I looked around the room and thought, are we in fact all kindred spirits?

One might assume that a gathering of Brethren clergy women would, for the most part, be homogenous. But a statistician could find a lot of differentiation among us. This group could easily be “sliced and diced” in a number of ways.

We could be grouped by European or African or Native American or Asian ancestry–which may not all be apparent from our skin tones or accents or names.

If grouped by age or generation, differences would quickly become apparent, variations of culture and lifestyle assumptions would emerge in the baby boomers as opposed to the Gen Xers, for example.

There are women here with decades of experience in pastoral or other forms of ministry. And there are the newly licensed, and some who have been in ministry for only a couple of years or less.

There are extroverts and introverts, artists and writers, academics and administrators, preachers and counselors, chaplains and teachers.

Women have come here from very different geographical places, from the east, the south, the west, the midwest, the mountain states. Each of those settings has its own cultural and political and theological geography–and a varying scale of welcome for women in church leadership.

The group includes women doing ministry in the large metropolises of Chicago, greater Los Angeles, D.C. It also includes women serving in rural settings, where the only way to get to church might be by gravel road.

Some have been in the Church of the Brethren all their lives. Some are brand new to the denomination.

Are we kindred spirits? At one level, I believe so. In Ephesians 4 it is called “the calling with which you have been called.” All called to ministry, all answering God’s call in one way or another. That’s how the women in this gathering are kin, and that is the place our spirits meet.

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Director of News Services

It’s windy tonight – it’s REALLY windy tonight!

–Blogging from the Church of the Brethren Clergy Women’s Retreat

The wind is blowing fiercely around the Serra Retreat Center tonight, rushing through palms and eucalyptus trees as it hurries on its way down the canyon to the sea. The Serra Retreat Center, where Brethren clergy women started their retreat today, is set high in a canyon above Malibu, within sight of the coastline of southern California.

The day was sunny, clear, warm, beautiful. But with the evening and sunset came the wind.

Worship this evening felt like a still, small space in the middle of tumult. Candles were lit, hymns were sung, prayers were spoken, scripture was read, God’s presence was felt in the beauty of the surrounding hills and sea, and in the warmth of the fellowship, as the wind growled outside and shook the plate glass windows through which in the daylight we may be able to see the ocean.

In a closing offering of sharing, the group was invited to recall and name women who have grounded them in the faith. Names were spoken and memories shared. Beautiful names, dropped one by one into that place of worship: Anna, Mary, Myrna, Louise, Ruby, Patricia, Judy, Phyllis, Nancy, Esther, and many more. Mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and daughters. Teachers, missionaries, pastors, and the spouses of pastors. Living and dead. The matriarchs of the church.

What might that worship experience mean, in the long term, I wonder? It gave me a vision of what clergy women may accomplish in our world. This evening, I saw a tableau of how women in ministry contribute a still, small space where God is present for people beset by a tumultuous world.

Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Director of News Services