Clergy Group Celebrates 23 Years at Silver Lake with Gift
Jennifer Kronholm Clark
SHARON — Silver Lake is pretty quiet on a weekday in October. Summer camp is a distant memory, and retreat groups don't arrive until Friday. The turkeys and the deer are the only ones playing on the ballfield. There's the illusion that you could walk for a mile without meeting another person.
Which is, of course, the appeal of coming to Silver Lake on a weekday in October, as a small clergy group has discovered. Seven clergy have been meeting a couple of times a year at Silver Lake for fellowship, professional support, and peace and quiet for the past 23 years.
The group began at a time when there wasn't a lot of support in place for young clergy in the UCC.
"We spotted each other at something called the Pastor's Study Conference that used to be held in Springfield, Mass.," said the Rev. Susan Townsley, owner of Welcome the Spirit, a church consulting business. "There weren't a lot of us our age, so that's why we decided we need to get together and support one another."
"We talked at lunch, and decided we needed a group," said the Rev. John Hudson, senior pastor at Pilgrim Church in Sherborn, Mass. "We wanted a group that would allow us to support each other through our ministry, support our craft, be in covenant with each other, be with each other through everything. I don't know if that day, when we decided to do it, at that first retreat in the spring of 1994, that we imagined then we'd be meeting 22 years later."
The group held their first meeting at Silver Lake Conference Center in Sharon, Conn. They arrive on a weekday, when no retreat groups are at camp, cook for themselves (or eat out), stay for a night or two, and clean up after themselves when they leave. With this arrangement, they have been able to use the space at Silver Lake for a very low cost and to have the space and the privacy they need to do their work as a group.
Most of the time, they meet in the Lodge, the oldest retreat building on camp. They did have to find alternate quarters while the Lodge was renovated over the last year.
"The space has been really gracious to us. There's a kind of warm sense, a fire, sofas to sit on," Rev. Townsley said. "Our only objection was it was so dark. We are incredibly thrilled about the new building. There is a beautiful sense of tradition, with the wood and a campy feel, but it also provides a little bit more space for us. And it's so nice to have room for a table!"
The group has been consistent over the two decades they've met. In addition to Revs. Townsley and Hudson, the group includes the Rev. Dr. Peter Lovett, pastor of Christ Church United, UCC in Lowell, Mass., the Rev. Karen McArthur of Congregational Finance and the First Church in Cambridge, Mass., the Rev. Sarah George of New York, Rev. Scott Morrow, pastor of North Haven Congregational Church, and the Rev. Cynthia Terry, the chaplain at Goucher College in Baltimore, Md. They call themselves CPR.
"The name CPR was kinda goofy, and we never decided exactly what it meant," said Rev. Townsley. At various times, it has meant Clergy Plotting Revolution, Clergy Planning Reform, and, "as we've gotten older, Colonoscopy Planning and Recovery."
The format of their retreat is a little bit loose, which allows for the group to focus in on the issues that come up and are most pressing and relevant.
"When we were younger, we were a lot more formal about our structure," Rev. Townsley said. "We know and trust each other, that we'll use that time well."
Both Rev. Townsley and Rev. Hudson stressed that the group was not just a place to complain and air grievances, though they do that, too.
"It's a community of practice: We call each other out on our stuff. We really challenge each other to use our gifts well, not fall into whining or moaning or victimization," said Rev. Townsley.
"We have no responsibility to each other, other than being friends and colleagues," Rev. Hudson said. "We don't work together, we don't report to each other, we're often not even in the same conference. For me, the endurance of the group somehow reminds us that God endures, and there's a power to that. There's a power to having people in your life who witness your life and reflect it back to you in gracious and loving ways."
CPR was at Silver Lake just a few weeks ago, staying in the newly renovated Lodge for the first time. In gratitude for their 23 years of retreats and in celebration of the renovation, together the members donated $625 towards the furnishing of the building.
"This group of clergy has been a gift to Silver Lake," said Executive Director Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer. "It enlivens my spirit and ministry to see a group of experienced ministers who still find great value in being in community and in visioning a future for the church. I hope that as the church does support young clergy better today, we can find ways as an Outdoor Ministry site to be a part of that future, so that for another quarter century we can give back to pastors living their call wherever they may experience that playing out. We give thanks for CPR and for the ways they have given to Silver Lake, most recently in their presence and their gift to the Lodge furnishings."