We just recently finished break week here (there’s not too much in the way of seasons, so you can’t really call it Spring Break). It was a bit of a new experience for me, though, because the first three days of the break were a seminary-wide retreat. Faculty, staff, and students all headed an hour down the road to the town of Papar, where there is a Franciscan convent that runs a retreat center. I’ve taken classes at four seminaries, so this is the fifth one I have been a part of, but the first one that has had a community-wide retreat. It was really a fantastic experience.
The theme this year was “What are We Doing Here,” and there was a keynote speaker who talked about how seminary classes engage the head, but we need to remember that head work is only one dimension of the preparation for ministry. Classes also need to help guide spiritual formation. In the vein of moving beyond just the intellectual side of the seminary experience, there were also plenty of fun moments in the retreat. We have what we call “family groups,” which is one faculty member, one staff member, and several students (my group has six), who meet together each week for bible study, prayer, and frequently meals together. During the retreat, the family groups also competed with each other in a series of games.
The first day the game was a tug-of-war tournament. I cannot recall ever being in a tug-of-war tournament before, but as my group gathered at the rope I was told, “Oh, you have to be our anchor.” We lined up in the best-of-three first round and almost immediately the other team pulled us across the line. Well, this will be nice and quick, I thought to myself. I was wrong. The second pull was truly epic. It may well have lasted for five minutes, an eternity in tug of war. We pulled and pulled and so did they. Our hands got red and sore, and nobody would give. In the deadlock, I figured out what it meant to be an anchor. The job of the anchor on a ship is to keep the ship from moving, keeping it from floating into danger. In the tug-of-war tournament, many of the anchors on the other teams were trying to be the star who won the match for their side. I realized that the anchor, though, needs to be the solid rock, the one who will not be moved. Doing that buys allows the rest of the team to have a chance to win it. As anchor I must stand my ground and give the others a chance to be the heroes. I’m pretty sure there’s a sermon there on the nature of ministry. At any rate, we ended up reeling off six straight victories to take the crown, and even did well enough at the other games to take the overall crown.
There was also a fun night skit night the second evening, with skits somehow addressing the theme. The faculty skit was a parody of chapel time, showing all the wrong reasons for being in chapel. I got to be the preacher, and put to use my many years of watching Rowan Atkinson “sermons,” giving the best dry humor I could muster giving my less than complete grasp of the Malay language. It must have been decent, as the skit won first place. The result of the double victory? Being given so much junk food no one group could possibly eat it all, so everyone shared with everyone else and it was like being a twelve-year-old at a lock-in. It really was a great way to break out of the normal roles and routines of the semester, to forge new forms of relationships and think about deep issues and frivolously fun ones too. It is really a blessing for the seminary community to be able to have a few days like this, and I think that it enhances spiritual formation in a way that helps improve the students’ ability to minster effectively after they graduate.