I’ve only been ice fishing twice. Once in February 2007 and then again in 2008. I’m not sure it even counts as ice fishing if during the entirety of those two trips I only caught one, tiny little fish! I’m not a fisherman. I wasn’t even trying to be a fisherman those two winters. This blog post isn’t even about fishing, I just baited 😉 you into reading about something else entirely (well almost entirely).
I want to tell you about the four other guys in this photo taken on my Motorola Razr phone back in 2008 in an ice shack on Mille Lacs Lake. In the group picture above , to my left is Matt Sipe from Minnesota. On my right (from left to right) is Brian Marcoulier from Tennessee, Matt Fowler from Nebraska and Jake Adams-Wilson from Mississippi. We all started seminary at Garrett- Evangelical in the fall of 2005 and we’re all United Methodist pastors.
At the start of seminary, the faculty and administration put great emphasis on the need to belong to a covenant group for support for seminary and ministry. John Wesley birthed the Methodist movement out of such groups, often called classes meetings. The classes (groups, really) consisted of no more than a dozen people committed to following in the way of Jesus. The group would form a covenant — or rule of life–together and then help each other live into it. Eventually Wesley came up with three General Rules for Methodists and how to live into them that the classes ultimately used. You can read these General Rules here. The gift of these covenant relationships is that we can grow with intention, in the process of sanctification, while supporting each other through thick and thin.
Matt from Minnesota took the advice from the seminary and example of Wesley to heart. He gathered the five of us in his seminary apartment after we had just met the first week of school to form a Wesleyan Covenant Group. We would use Wesley’s General Rules to inquire of each other’s souls, to support each other through life and spur each other on in sanctification each week. 17 years later, we still gather weekly by FaceTime Thursday mornings to hold each other accountable and support each other through life and ministry. I owe much of my fruitfulness in ministry and growth in grace to these guys and our commitment to connecting weekly – and gathering once a year in person for a retreat.
We also learned that having an annual retreat is good for the soul. But we also discovered the start of Lent (February) is the wrong time to have a retreat when you are a pastor. So now we meet for retreat the first-full week in November. And as it turns out, only one of us really likes ice fishing (take a guess who). That’s how we started (and stopped) ice fishing. What we really liked doing is discussing theology and the Bible; talking out the challenges we face in leading the church together; and just being able to be guys and not pastors for a few days. This November, we’ve rented a house in Nashville to do just that (and eat Hattie B’s, catch some live blues music and hopefully meet a country music star – we almost met Chris Stapleton the last time we were in Nashville).
These guys are so important to me that I really can’t believe it’s taken me over a year to bring them up. Perhaps that’s because I mentioned them frequently when I was your Associate Pastor and nearly all of them have worshiped or visited UMCG at some point or another. I’m glad to (re)introduce them to you in this post. For those who pray for your pastors, pray for these guys and their churches, too, as they help me pastor you and the people of the Tri-Cities.