The Sound of Sheer Silence

Reflections on my one-month Renewal Leave

by Noel Sweezy

I set the anchor, turned off the engine, and gasped. The Silence was palpable, alien, but welcoming. And it would be my solitary sanctuary for a month!

The journey began at a day-apart sponsored by Big Sigh Ministries, which educates clergy and congregations on the possibility, benefits, and logistics of Clergy Renewal Leave. There I learned that The Book of Discipline (351.2) expects that a pastor’s continuing education and spiritual growth program include “at least one month during one year of every quadrennium.” What? That was news to me, but you do not need to tell me twice.

With the assistance of Big Sigh Ministries and input from my family and congregation, I requested and was granted permission to take Renewal Leave from my superintendent and began to make plans with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee. The SPRC decided the congregation would join me in a season of renewal by partnering with the 24-7 Prayer Room in Charlotte, who came in and led the congregation through “31 Days of SHIFT.”

Meanwhile, I packed up and trailered my 22’ sailboat south to Key West, FL. From there I sailed west for 25 miles to the Marquesas Keys, a ring of deserted mangrove islands created by an ancient meteor.

Utter Solitude. No cellphone service. And no guilt in turning my phone off. It was the longest I have been “off duty” in over 20 years of pastoral ministry. Unplugged, I felt parts of me – body, mind, & spirit — relaxing that I did not know could.

Often I would stand on the bow of the boat and as far as I could see, there was not another human soul! The reality of which took my breath away in awe and a bit of fear. Yet I never had the sense of being alone. Just as the silence was tangible, so was the Spirit’s Presence. Throughout my Renewal Leave, I enjoyed the graceful companionship of God’s Spirit, tenderly working in me to heal, refresh, and stretch me for the next steps of my life and ministry with God and God’s People.

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