In just a few days time I will leave for my annual Covenant Group Meeting. There are a few more than a dozen of us, give or take, that have been meeting for nearly three decades. We were all Episcopal priests and rectors of multi-staff congregations. We came from different cities across the US and Canada; no two of us came from the same city or even the same diocese. We are always all guys. We meet for three days in a nice setting during the off-season in Florida. Our days are filled with group meetings where each man takes an hour to ‘log-in’ and share with the other men what has been going on in the past year. At the conclusion of a 45 minute ‘download’, the rest of the men pray for the one who just spoke. We take a break and then the next man is up. As I say, there are about 15 of us and we have been meeting for 30 years. I have been attending this gathering every year, same week, for 27 of those 30 years.
The changes in the group’s life have been telling. We were all Episcopal clergy once; now most have left for the ACNA or for retirement. (They typically leave the group and younger men are invited.) We have been there for each other as we have all faced the trials and challenges of manhood, priesthood, and the servanthood of parish ministry. We have been privy to the sins, secrets and successes; the failures and flops of our ministries. We are not allowed to brag about successes or fix anyone else’s problems. Accomplishments are impressive…but honest talk about failures and challenges are where true fellowship bonds are formed. We are covenanted together to listen, pray, and where possible, guide our brothers in Christ.
Most years it has been a lifeline to me.
Over nearly three decades this is what has happened to our members: we have raised our children, sent our kids to college, married them in family weddings. We have welcomed grandchildren, walked one or two through drug addiction. One of our grandsons is battling cancer. One of our sons came out of the closet, several children lost their faith; a few found it again later on. Some of our children went to seminary or the mission field. Our wives have been through careers or stayed at home. One had breast cancer, another alcoholism, another suffered deep depression; a few went through job losses, and many have had significant victories in life. One wife left her husband; he remarried several years later. One priest left for Rome. One of us was defrocked for infidelity. (He came to the group to confess his sin, ask for forgiveness, and tell the story of his infidelity. It was sobering, sad, and served as a warning to us all.) Several have become bishops and left the group. One thing we all have in common is church work.
We talk about our preaching lives, our reading and praying lives, and the leadership time we spend with staff, vestry, and parish organizations. Our churches have grown, shrunk, plateaued, relocated, split, or been confiscated by a diocese. Many of us have been sued or are in the midst of litigation of some sort. One of our members has become a pastor of a non-denominational church.
These are my brothers in Christ; my brothers in arms. I love them; they tell me that they love me. We are a happy few. And in a few days I will fly off for my 27th year of this covenant experience. I will listen and I will talk. I’ll walk along the beach during free time. I’ll pray with and for these men. We will pray for our wives and children and grandchildren. We will sort out the sticky situations of ministry in today’s culture; we will untie tight knots of confusion. And when it is over at the end of the week, we will set our calendar for one year hence…and we will meet again. We are in Covenant together.
Photo: Public Domain.
Note: The phrase “Band of Brothers” is from St. Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.