Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church, a 170-member congregation in the riverside village of Weems, Va., started swimmingly on sabbatical planning for its pastor of six years, W. Clay Macaulay. The sabbatical committee worked early with session and Pastor Clay, kept the congregation informed, and pinned its financial hopes on receipt of a national grant.
When the grant failed, disappointment tumbled into doubt. Initial questions resurfaced: Could the church operate without Clay? What if someone died midway? What of the promise to the congregation of a part-time but consistent covenant pastor? What about funding? Even though Clay deserved a respite from his meticulous, thoughtful and more-than-overtime care of an aging congregation, perhaps God was saying, “Not now!”
With patience, prayer, and dependence on God’s guidance, Plan B emerged. Clay arranged for study, rest, reflection and recreation in Ireland and Scotland. The Rev. Marvin Lindsay, an ordained doctoral candidate and the eighth pastor contacted, agreed to be our covenant pastor for the duration. Individual donations, sabbatical monies that had been budgeted monthly for six years, and other church funds sufficed. Clay trained the congregation in pastoral care and challenged leadership to step up. Buoyed by an extraordinary administrator and music staff, he left the church shipshape.
Back to the grant: Sometimes failure breeds success. The application required plans for congregational as well as pastoral renewal, a concept Campbell Church might not otherwise have explored. Because the church’s missions often involve food — Meals on Wheels, Thanksgiving dinner delivery, Water Missions International, an annual barbecue benefiting local nonprofits — a second sabbatical committee chose nourishment of body and soul for the congregation’s sabbatical theme and created a circular schematic as reminder and guide. While Clay was at Dublin’s All Hallows College in a program titled “Water Your Roots,” Campbell Church began watering its own.
Members dug, planted and fenced a large garden, harvesting two hundred pounds of turnips for the Northern Neck Food Bank, which emphasizes fresh rather than processed foods. The Mission Ministry selected the food bank as the recipient of the 2013 barbecue profits, and church members volunteered there, sorting food for distribution and trucking weekly food donations from Wal-Mart.
And the stepping up? Women of the church stepped up, making and freezing soup for the temporarily and permanently homebound. The usually off-for-the-summer choir stepped up, agreeing to sing an extra month in June. The children stepped up, picking turnips, learning to serve as acolytes, volunteering at the food bank; and, with scholarship contributions from the congregation, attended the presbytery’s Camp Hanover for the first time. The congregation stepped up, keeping summer attendance solid.
Pastor Marvin lifted Clay in prayer every Sunday during worship. As Clay moved through Galway and Glasgow to the Abbey of Iona and the Cathedral of St. Giles, Campbell Church prayed for him in Weems.
Though thoughtful not to overstep, Marvin ran with church members’ suggestions. He kept the nourishment schematic before him at all times. He led a three-week Sunday school series on the book, “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself,” averaging 50 summertime participants, and wove the subject into subsequent sermons.
The Holy Spirit blew beyond the sanctuary. Early on St. Patrick’s Day, a few Sundays before Clay left and the day Marvin came as an observer to Campbell Church, a beloved member was gravely injured in a private plane crash. Clay received word during the service and stopped immediately for prayer. He and a ruling elder drove two-and-a-half hours after church to the hospital, praying not only with the pilot from church, but also with the non-member owner of the plane, less severely injured; and the congregation responded for months in faithful prayer. Marvin saw firsthand Campbell’s pastoral and congregational care in action, and he as covenant pastor jumped into the circle, visiting members in hospitals and homes here and in Richmond. Our pilot has healed miraculously.
Next, but connected, a baby grand piano was lent to the church with an option to buy. The crashed plane’s owner, who had never entered Campbell Church, donated moving costs for the piano in gratitude for the church’s ongoing concern shown him, and he and his wife have begun worshiping at Campbell. Finally, out-of-towners visiting for summer worship read about the piano in the bulletin and paid for it anonymously, in honor of their friends who are longtime members.
Meanwhile, Clay walked the Caledonian Canal and ferried to the Isle of Lewis with his wife, Pam. In his final days of passage, he wrote to the congregation, “Pam joins me in sending our heartfelt thanks and gratitude for this journey of a lifetime! By grace, I will long remember and give thanks to God for this time of Sabbath rest and renewal! May God grant you peace in his abiding love and grace until we meet again!”
Clay returned to Weems in late July, brimming; and Marvin, to Richmond to refocus on his dissertation. The sabbatical time brought renewal to him as well, and he will always be a friend of and to Campbell Church.
As Clay expected, the congregation stepped up, watering its roots in all directions, and all three — Clay, Marvin and Campbell Church — blossomed, nourished by the continuing presence of God.
JANE TIMS is a ruling elder of the Campbell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Weems, Va. Fellow ruling elder Lynne Engstrom and Debby Hoyt, moderator of the Christian Education Ministry, assisted her in preparing this report.