Thanks for the 'Fire'

April 24, 2016

Rev. Jerry Rardin has been a Parish Consultant in New England since 2008, when he retired to this area. His active ministry was in Eastern Pennsylvania, in two parishes and also for 30 years as a pastoral counselor at the Samaritan Counseling Center in Philadelphia. 

In New England, he has been a small-group leader in "Tending the Fire," and a key figure in the ongoing Tending the Fire 201 groups that meet in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In Spring 2016, Rev. Rardin will retire as a New England Parish Consultant and from "Tending the Fire" leadership. 

"We’ve been blessed by Jerry’s presence, his knowledge, his humor, and his keen insights into human nature. Thank you, Jerry!" said Rev. Barbara Lemmel, coordinator of the Parish Consultants and "Tending the Fire" leader

Rev. Rardin offers this article as a farewell to those with whom he has worked over the past 10 years. 

Jerry Rardin
You’ll be glad to know that “Tending the Fire is now gearing up for its eighth year of fire-tending. Pastors from all districts will invest significant amounts of time and manna to attend the three retreats of this project. The retreats “lay the fire” and tend it, through peer support for applying family-systems theory to current parish issues 

This season marks my retirement from “Tending the Fire”; I’m having to “tend the Parkinson’s Disease” that keeps trying to take charge of mind, memory, and movement. I’d expect to feel sad for the ending of this season of ministry; but instead I’ve been experiencing enormous gratitude for the many ways the Fire has been tending me.

The first wave of gratitude goes to the founders - Cathy MacGovern, who discovered the program in another conference and brought it to New England, and Barb Lemmel, who along with Alan Delameter was already trying out the model in Troy and Vermont. Other founders include Thom Gallen at the Preachers' Aid Society, and the Board of Ordained Ministry.  

We soon realized that “Tending the Fire” might well be more lastingly useful if “graduates” could continue in small-group peer supervision while practicing their new skills in their week-to-week parish contexts. By now, 60 “Tending the Fire” graduates have chosen to continue in one of these ongoing “Tending the Fire 201” groups; May 25 will see my 75th and final meeting as a facilitator for some of them. 

And my second wave of gratitude, akin to respect, goes to my fellow facilitators Greg Carpenter, Meg Hess,

Tending the Fire 2016-17

Three sessions are planned. Click the links to learn more:

Evelyn Johnson Moore, and Betsy Waters. Meg and Betsy also were my co-leaders in two of the groups.

Most of all, my gratitude — and affection, you could say — go to the members of all those groups, whose faces, group by group, I can still vividly see.

Let me tell you a few of the learnings I have witnessed: 
  • The central achievement is increasing mutual support for the burdens of their roles and the changes they face. As one member said, “We thought we were coming here for the training, but it’s really for the trust. There’s no other place I would feel safe enough to risk saying some of my truths.”
  • With this support, members generate increasing confidence in challenging the “homeostasis” that keeps churches and themselves locked in old habits.
  • One key learning is not to take all resistance or criticism just personally: “It’s usually not your person, it’s the roles you inherit.” 
  • On the other hand, a complementary discipline that emerges is that we approach any difficulty in a congregation by always asking first: “What is my piece of this problem?” 
  • Almost as important as a member’s first identifying and describing a conflict is his or her pleasure in reporting back the next month on how an intervention has been received and feeling the group’s affirmation of it. 
As I finish this reflection, I see that I’ve been discovering not only great depths of gratitude, but that there are really at least three aspects of my gratitude— affection, respect, and joy. All three are what I feel as I wish all these people and the extraordinary “Tending the Fire” program a creative and empowering future.