Boxed In

Welcome to Kent Ira Groff’s blog: Here I hope to create dialog about things that get in the way of your spirituality—and things that encourage genuine contemplative living.

NOTE: Mostly I write this blog and my “weekly reflections” for three audiences: First, everyone who knows me realizes I have a heart for persons struggle with institutional religion yet who genuinely seek for a meaningful spiritual connection, commonly referred to as “spiritual but not religious.” Second, I write for folks who are members of a faith community, commonly called “lay people.” Third I write for trained leaders of faith communities, commonly known as “clergy.” But in this blog, I’m writing especially for the clergy. Actually, all three overlap, because many ex-clergy have left their institutions, and spiritual seekers often become active members and even leaders. I sent the following as a letter to Dr. Barnes and to the editor of The Christian Century.

What M. Craig Barnes says in his column “Boxed In” (August 21) rings true, “There is no such thing as a healthy congregation with an unhealthy pastor.” However, something is missing when he suggests that church executives and bishops devise systems to help disillusioned ministers to transition into non-church careers. (Benedict, whom Barnes quotes, had the monk keep the old street clothes as a reminder that conversion is a continuing, day-by-day practice.)

The something missing is healthy spiritual practices to restore pastors who genuinely want to stay in ministry before they reach end-state burnout. Nowhere does he mention cultivating daily exercises for spirit, mind and body; engaging in spiritual direction with a trained guide; scheduling periodic personal retreats—or a longer term sabbatical. Any of these can be preventive and restorative means for renewing the lives of discouraged pastors.

As president of Princeton Seminary (my alma mater) and long-time pastor, Barnes can lead the way. It is crucial for future pastors to be introduced to contemplative practices while in training, and for seminaries to offer spiritual strategies as continuing education for ministry. Then a boxed-in pastor may be equipped to discern a new direction within or outside church walls.

NOTE: In 1987, I was one of those boxed in and burned out pastors, with no courses in prayer or the spiritual life in the 1960s in three years for a master of divinity and two years for a doctorate in religion. This is what I often refer to, with the poet John Keats, as Negative Capability. Out of what I lacked, my new vocation as a “beggar showing others beggars where to find bread” was born. Click on “Kent’s Story” on my website

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