Back in the 1970s, Dennis Weaver starred in the popular TV series, “McCloud.” He played the role of a western law officer who was teamed with a law officer from a big city “back East.” Each of them played a perfect counterpoint to the other. At the end of one program, the camera shows the two of them walking away and you hear Weaver say, “There’s a rock in my boot.” The other character says with an almost parched wit, “It must have fallen out of your head.”
I have a rock in my pocket. It is not very big. It is smooth. It was smooth when I got it, and it is even smoother now. Across the surface of one side is the word “CREDO.” I received the rock at the end of participating in a June 2004 conference by that name.
CREDO grew out of efforts in the Episcopal Church to provide support and guidance for clergy. It has existed in the Episcopal Church for several years and has included by now almost 100 conferences. New CREDO formats are being developed in the Episcopal Church for clergy at different stages in their lives and ministries, for laity, and for racial-ethnic groups. CREDO is now coming into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through the support and funding of The Board of Pensions. The leadership team of CREDO has been remarkably gracious and generous in offering assistance to an emerging leadership team for CREDO in our denomination.
Attending a CREDO conference is not like attending a workshop, a retreat, a continuing education event, or a personal evaluation consultation. Over the course of eight days, participants look into four areas of their lives: their spiritual health, their physical health, their sense of call, and their financial condition. Through large group presentations, small group interactions, and professional consultations each of these areas is examined and explored in a supportive and professionally competent manner.
An eight day period provides ample opportunity to break away and be separated from the usual preoccupations of our lives. The rhythm of the events–meals, worship, free time, group meetings, large and small, and recreation–are well planned and easy to engage.
Prior to a CREDO experience, each participant has to provide surveys of his or her schedule, eating habits, and health. Colleagues are asked to respond to a survey of the participant’s leadership style. The conference is followed by additional surveys to track how the experience has influenced each participant’s life and ministry. One of the outstanding characteristics of CREDO is the care and thoroughness with which the participant’s experience is measured.
Do such conferences simply provide a “mountain-top experience” with few lingering effects? The rigorous testing conducted by the Episcopal Church of conference attendees indicates that behavior change does indeed occur along with significantly higher levels of vocational satisfaction and a decreased intent to leave the ministry. Also, something called a “wellness contagion” effect reflects the reality that spouses and partners as well as the congregations of participants are also touched and changed.
Several CREDO conferences have now been held for clergy from our denomination. The responses have been excellent and inspiring. A larger faculty is being formed. The Board of Pensions is investing significantly in this undertaking. It is obvious from the experience of the Episcopalians that CREDO contributes significantly to people’s health and care, as well as to their honesty in evaluating their calling and role in ministry.
These days, every morning, like everyone else, I put some things in my pockets: pens, keys, glasses, and a small notebook. I also put in the rock with CREDO on it. It reminds me every day of the conference and of the commitments I made then that continue to have an impact on my life and ministry.
Laird Stuart is pastor/head of staff at Calvary Church in San Francisco, Calif.