It is once again that time of year for pastoral leaders to be making their way to the Mid-Atlantic Congress (MAC) in Baltimore. Registration fees have been paid, rooms have been booked, and deals on parking spaces have been found. The preparations are well under way for another Congress, and where does my mind go? To the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. That’s right, I am about to compare a gathering of pastoral leaders to The Lord of the Rings. Although the MAC at first glance may not appear to be as epic as Tolkien’s depiction of the Council of Elrond, upon further examination the MAC holds many epic features to it- most notably that of companionship.
The Christian life as we all know is filled with struggles, sorrows, growth, and joy. At times we often feel as Frodo does, torn between the known and the unknown. We may desire to remain in our present scenario although feeling nudged to embrace a challenge that seems impossible. Tolkien portrays this tension when he writes,
“An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo’s side in Rivendell filled all his heart. At last with an effort he spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice. ‘I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.”’ (The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Rings, 303)
As a young adult working in the Catholic Church, I often find myself saying this very line: “I will take the [insert present challenge] though I do not know the way.” As Frodo and myself have both found, this insecurity is the prime opportunity in which to reach out for another and to experience the value and blessings of companionship.
Upon attending the MAC last year, I was amazed with the incredible spirit of companionship that enlivened the atmosphere of this conference. As I walked through the halls of the conference center, I observed reunions between old friends at every turn and new friendships forged as experiences and stories were shared. Ideas were exchanged on how to approach various problems at the parish, contact information shared for future questions, and the knowledge that you were not alone in your struggles or in your joys brought reassurance.
As for me, I was blessed with the companionship of one of my Echo Faith Formation community members. We would scour through the program to find the most interesting workshops, often splitting up so that we could gather even more information to bring back to our collective reservoir of knowledge. This initial companionship gave us the motivation and encouragement to go off on our own, meet new members of the Body of Christ, and return together strengthened in our own relationship. Throughout this past year, we have often thought back to the MAC, appreciating the connections we made, the friendships we began, and the opportunities that we were blessed to experience.
As the Council of Elrond provides an opportunity for Frodo and the other characters to seek direction and as Rivendell bestows a haven of rest and peace, the MAC grants the time and space to discuss the Church in the world today and a place in which to rest and gain strength to continue the journey. As Frodo set out with eight companions to complete his task, one leaves the MAC with several more companions than one started with. Although there will be bumps along the way, the memory of the joy and the Spirit shared at this unique gathering strengthens one during difficult times (as an added benefit, it also provides a great opportunity to network!). St. Paul captures the spirit of the MAC when he writes, “so that I may come to you with joy by the will of God and be refreshed together with you.” (Romans 15:32) Regardless of your ability to participate in the MAC this year, I pray that as diverse members of the same Body of Christ we may come together with joy and be refreshed so that we may be sent out to continue our own epic story as apostles of Jesus Christ.
Amy Winkler serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ