[This is my letter of referral for the DOXOLOGY program of Advanced Training in Pastoral Care. I would encourage all of you to learn more about the amazing work that this organization is doing. -P]
September 23, 2009
To Whom It May Concern:
“It is as if an angel was sitting and talking to us saying, ‘here is a weapon for you to protect you.’”
Those were the words my wife, Kathryn, used to describe our time with DOXOLOGY. We have four young children, and so time away from home is precious for both of us. It has to be worth it and important. When we started to go to the final session, where spouses attend along with the pastors, she was a little hesitant. Was this going to be another round of psychobabble, or pastors complaining about there lot in life, or would it be different?
It is different.
When I started the DOXOLOGY training cycle, it had been about a year since I was on disability for major clinical depression. I was tired, unfocused, and really wondering if I could even be a pastor anymore. On a personal level, our family was hurting and struggling to find our place and hold everything together. We were surviving, but there was little joy for me as a pastor, and we were looking at our family as more of a test of faith than a gift from God.
The first portion of DOXOLOGY, called The Gathering, was in a Roman Catholic retreat center outside of Milwaukee. The worship was rich and beautiful, as Lutherans can do so well. The pastor-in-residence for the event was caring and sympathetic, a great preacher with a sense of humor who understands the challenges and opportunities that pastors face every day. He helped us all to learn how to receive the gifts of God again. Pastors give so much, they can easily forget what it means to be a sheep. They say doctors make the worst patients. Pastors make the worst parishioners. But Pastor Ledic helped us remember that we are a part of God’s family and in need of His mercy as much as anyone to whom we minister.
It’s hard to know where to begin describing Drs. Senkbeil and Yahnke. Dr. Senkbeil is a pastor with decades of experience, who has spent countless hours in prayer and meditation on God’s Word. He specializes, if we can use that term, in the care of souls. How do we care for those God has given to us? First we must learn how to receive again. He taught us how to confess our sins, loose our burdens, how to actually be a pastor while not getting utterly consumed by the doing that defines so much of our lives today. His care for us as pastors was and is simply remarkable.
Dr. Beverly Yahnke plays a unique role in our world as pastors. As a woman, it could be intimidating for her to sit in front of a room full of pastors and talk to them about the opportunities and limits of pastoral care. Frankly, I think that she understands as few pastors do the level of burden which we care, the yoke of the sole. But she is able to speak about topics that every pastor deals with on a regular basis: depression, anxiety, compassion fatigue, managing church and family, suicide, and many more topics where my role as pastor and her role as clinical psychologist often intersect. Her understanding of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation I believe has freed her to be and to teach in her field, while simultaneously understanding the roles and needs of others.
I certainly know that my congregation has benefited tremendously from their service and the DOXOLOGY program. I had two elders join me for the second section, and it gave them helpful insights into the lives of pastors and of how pastors and congregations interact, support one another, and how we really need each other.
As I look back on the past year and a half and my ministry here at Messiah Lutheran Church, here are some of the changes that I believe have come about around here as a result of my time with DOXOLOGY:
As a pastor I am much more relaxed. I am able to look at the long view of our common work together here in Christ’s Church, and this has allowed me to not get bogged down in details and task management, but has freed me to be more people oriented and ministry oriented.
I am more confident in my role as a pastor when it comes to ongoing and emergency care for my congregation. I feel like I know what I am capable of doing and not doing, and that I can communicate these to anyone who comes in my study or whom I see at their kitchen table or around their living room.
The congregation is more at prayer than we were before. This is partly in thanks to Dr. John Kleinig and his wonderful insights on prayer and blessing, but also understanding the weaknesses and hurts that my people struggle with every day.
My own understanding of the role of marriage and family in my life is vastly different than it was two years ago. My wife and I pray and hear God’s Word together, and we are working on how to prioritize our lives and the place that our family plays in that, rather than simply reacting to the situation of the day/week/month, etc.
One final observation. The mix of pastors was fairly common for the LCMS. They would fit the gambit of worship practices, etc. But I felt we were able to speak theologically and pastorally in a way that rarely happens anywhere else. Because of DOXOLOGY and their work, I am hopeful that our church body will be able to move forward and continue to be a blessing into the twenty-first century and beyond.
I would recommend DOXOLOGY for any Lutheran pastor who desires to improve his craft as a shepherd of souls, who wants to understand better how to balance church and family life, and who needs renewal in ministry. There is joy in ministry. Thank God for that, and thank God for DOXOLOGY!
Yours in Christ,
Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Pastor, Messiah Lutheran Church