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Hartwig to benefit from $50K grant for sabbatical

TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Pastor Robyn Hartwig (right) of St. Andrew Lutheran Church and Pastor Joe Chang of the Taiwan Lutheran Church have come together as co-workers, have worked to bring their congregations closer together, and will come together again in Taiwan during Hartwigs coming sabbatical. Pastor Robyn Hartwig has always felt an inner rhythm in her life.

Now 48, Hartwig — a pastor at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Cedar Hills — remembers when she was just 2 years old and would not let go of her Little Drummer Boy pull toy.

At age 5, Hartwig begged her grandmother for a drum until she made one out of an oatmeal box and TinkerToys. At 8, her parents finally relented and Hartwig became the only girl drummer in the school band for the next 10 years.

While Hartwig left her drumming career behind in favor of a greater pursuit — she’s been a pastor at St. Andrew for nearly seven years now — her awareness of rhythm has continued unabated. She feels it in the sound of geese flying overhead. She hears it in water dripping into a puddle. She senses it when she hears children laughing outside.

Hartwig believes that those rhythms are God-created, and she knows that the time is right to hear them more clearly and understand them more deeply.

A big grant

She’ll get the opportunity to do just that in 2016 after it was announced in late September that St. Andrew had received a grant of $49,480 to enable Hartwig to participate in the 2015 National Clergy Renewal Program. St. Andrew was one of 144 congregations across the country selected to participate in this competitive grant program, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by the Christian Theological Seminary.

The grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities. Ministers whose congregations are awarded the grants use their time away from the demands of daily ministry to engage in reflection and renewal.

“I had actually convinced myself that we weren’t going to get it,” Hartwig admitted. “So I was shocked when we did. But even if we hadn’t, just going through the application process has pushed us to do things we knew were good.”Pastor Robyn Hartwig (left) and Lead Pastor Mark Brocker preside over an outdoor service for St. Andrew Lutheran Church in an image that's featured on the church's website.

In recognition of — in honor of — her own connection to rhythm, Hartwig’s three-month sabbatical will be built around the theme “Returning to the rhythms of God,” and the congregation at St. Andrew will join her on that journey during Lent, Holy Week and Easter. During her time away from St. Andrew, Hartwig will participate in a broad spectrum of spiritual practices, explore indigenous communities that live close to the land (both here in the U.S. and also in Taiwan, where she will focus upon the indigenous Christians of the Taiwanese church), and will also take part in drum circles and retreats offered through EcoFaith Recovery.

Before Hartwig steps away from her regular duties, however, the St. Andrew’s congregation will initiate its own activities and spiritual practices to help members in their own return to the rhythms of God; those activities, which will continue while Hartwig is away, will include centering prayer, walking and hiking groups, tai chi, and tending community gardens.

Hartwig said she can’t wait for the opportunity to begin.

“I’ve been a drummer since I was 8 ... but many times, because of the busy life of a pastor, I’ve had to leave the drums behind,” she said, noting that she often tries to work drums into the children’s ministry at St. Andrew. Now, I’m asking, “how can we reconnect with rhythm and come up with a way to return to the rhythm of God’s creation?”

Part of her sabbatical mission, too, is to figure out how to slow some of the “other” rhythms that drum in all our heads.

“You would think I, of all people, might know how to lead God’s people in flowing with the rhythms of life,” Hartwig wrote in the pastor’s statement included in her grant application. “Yet I hear another rhythm. A singular monotonous rhythm: machinery pounding 24 hours a day, devices chiming with one electronic message after another, footsteps of busy people moving quickly across artificial floors barely noticing the beauty around them. ... As a pastor, I have long been humbled by the realization that I am just as susceptible to an unsustainable rhythm as the people I serve.”

A unique coming together

Beyond the excitement of the grant announcement, Hartwig and her congregation are also reveling in a unique serendipity that has come with it. In her grant application, Hartwig expressed a desire to reconnect with her family’s long farming heritage, to learn more about indigenous people in general, and in particular, about the indigenous Christian people of the Taiwanese church.

In her pastor’s statement, Hartwig wrote: “My longing to return to the rhythms of Christian faith, my family’s rural history, creation and its indigenous peoples is not a retreat from industrialized society, not a desire to appropriate indigenous people’s practices and not an attempt to romanticize the lives of indigenous people while ignoring their struggles. Nor is it about stopping to rest so I can get ready to sprint again. Rather, it is a hope that Christ will teach me to better flow with God’s unforced rhythms of grace through relational encounters with creation and the people who have lived in greater harmony with it.”

It’s there, in Hartwig’s interest in the Taiwanese church, that things took on a rhythm of their own. For the past 20 years, members of the Taiwan Lutheran Church have worshipped in the chapel at St. Andrew at the exact same time that its congregants gathered in the sanctuary each Sunday.

Certainly, that long association had some impact on Hartwig’s interest in the indigenous Christian people of the Taiwanese church.

But there’s more. Since the spring of 2014, the Taiwan Lutheran Church has been led by Pastor Joe Chang. As Hartwig endeavored to forge a closer relationship with Chang, 68, and bring their two congregations closer, she discovered that Chang had a connection intertwined with the aims of her sabbatical.

“I thought I should ask him (about the indigenous Christians in Taiwan) and he said ‘You’re interested in aboriginal Taiwanese Christians? I studied that for 10 years,’” Hartwig said. In fact, Chang is half aboriginal himself, had built a museum dedicated to aboriginal Taiwanese Christianity, and has given many presentations about their unique faith over the years. He’s currently in the midst of an eight-week course at St. Andrew on the Taiwanese church and the spirituality of its people; the course has drawn more than 70 people every week, making it the most popular adult course St. Andrew has ever offered.

All that and family, too

There are more connections, too. As Hartwig and the sabbatical team at St. Andrew designed her grant application — which includes a trip to Taiwan to learn more about Taiwanese Christians and to worship with them — she learned that her spouse, the Rev. Janet Parker of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Salem, worked in a Taiwanese ministry for three years back in the 1990s and speaks Taiwanese. She will join Hartwig for the Taiwan leg of her sabbatical.

“I’m really looking forward to visiting Taiwan with Janet,” Hartwig said, adding that Chang and some members of his congregation have timed their yearly visits to Taiwan to coincide with Hartwig’s trip in March and April. “I have no idea what to expect, but to see it with them is so exciting.”

“We have already seen the spirit at work in Pastor Hartwig’s interactions with Pastor Joe Chang and the people of the Taiwan Lutheran Church,” added St. Andrew Lead Pastor Mark Brocker. “They are excited by her interest in their church and culture, and they are thrilled that Pastor Hartwig and her partner Janet want to travel to Taiwan.”

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