“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
– Ezekiel 47:12
What a welcome blessing the rain on Saturday 28th July turned out to be. Farmers and gardeners rejoiced at the refreshing downpour, the reservoirs were topped up after weeks of hot dry weather and the ducks on the canal in Sydenham relocated to the puddles in the carparks!
Meanwhile, over in Budbrooke, the Serving Christ Team were holding a retreat day for lay leaders from across the Diocese, designed to offer time and space for refreshing and replenishing aside from busy lives and ministries within churches. The idea had first come about after Jen and I had both been meeting with churches who were blessed with enthusiastic leaders who were giving their time and energy to faithfully serve the churches but who were reaching exhaustion and in need of time and space to just “be” with God themselves.
Further conversation led us both to reflect on Ezekiel 47 as a relevant passage, with imagery of a river from the temple and fruit trees growing on the banks to convey the depth and expanse of God’s blessing for us. Very quickly it was felt that God was calling us to step out and hold an event where people in ministry could be ministered to. The vision was for a day where they could be supported, invested in and blessed with time to be with God away from their busy lives.
We welcomed 28 people from 21 churches to St Michael’s Centre in Budbrooke, supported by our colleague Gareth and Lay Reader Gemma Took, and were hugely encouraged by the day. As people arrived, there was a buzz of conversation and it was incredibly special to see people greeting old friends from across the churches and taking the opportunity to begin conversations with new people. We then began the first session of the day with a time of prayer and sung worship, which led into some teaching on the passage, along with a time for reflection and discussion, before breaking for lunch. The key themes we wanted to bring out from Ezekiel were focused on the refreshing power of the river in his vision, the depths of God’s blessing and power, if we allow ourselves to go deeper, and the rich fruits that He can grow in a leader who is nourished, filled with the Spirit and empowered to pause, rest and invest in their own discipleship.
Over the lunch break, we had the opportunity to chat with a number of people from across these churches and hear their stories. Stories of blessing and new opportunities in churches, stories of personal encounters with God, and stories from countless years of faithful and sacrificial service to their churches and communities. What a wonderful, spirit-filled group of people we met that day – and how they deserved to rest and enjoy being with God!
The afternoon session was given over to personal time with God, using a selection of creative prayer stations, quiet spaces for individual prayer or just the beautiful natural surroundings that Budbrooke provides. The idea was for people to be as active or as still as they liked, and to just allow them to find space with God. The feedback we have received, both on the day and since then, has drawn out how significant this time was.
It is such a rare treat for most of us to get off the treadmill of daily life and just be with God – and how special and powerful those times are. Building in regular time with God is a lifeline to those in ministry and that afternoon became an oasis for those present. Finishing with another time of worship and a short Eucharist, led by Rev David Brown, we drew the day to a close with words of refreshing, blessing and commission.
So, having spent the day thinking about how vital God’s living water is, flowing from his throne out into the temple and then out again into the lives of his people, we prayed that those who joined us would feel refreshed and well-watered… and as we walked out of the church at 3.30pm the heavens, quite literally, opened.
If you would be interested in coming on future retreats, or would like support to host one of your own, please get in touch with Lisa (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jen (email@example.com) at the Serving Christ Team to discuss – they would be delighted to help you.