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A Presbyterian minister discusses her intentional approach to retirement

Everyday God-talk explores God’s gift of time, a gift that ministers often accept too late

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

Episode 1: Barbara’s Soul: How to prepare the gift of time


“I definitely say that retirement for me has been a gift. It’s a gift of time,” the Rev. Dr. Barbara Cathey says during the fourth episode of the 2024 season of Everyday God-talk, produced by the Rev. Dr. So Jung Kim, associate for theology in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology & Worship.

Now in its fourth season, this movement of Everyday God-talk is subtitled “How to Rest and Grow.” It explores the individual’s sense of call through transitions and retirement. New episodes are posted monthly on the Office of Theology and Worship’s Facebook page and YouTube Channel.

In episode 1, Cathey, who retired from Edgewater Presbyterian Church in Chicago, describes an intentional approach to retirement starting two years before her goal retirement date. She gathered a group of friends to form a “clearness committee” to help her discern how to retire. As the group accompanied Cathey in her process, they asked questions like: “What are you seeking? What would be ideal for moving from full time into retirement?” She determined that she needed to ease into living with more spaciousness of time and suggested to her session that she would work three weeks of the month and take one week off “where I was free to explore life as a sort of transition to retirement.” The session worked with Cathey and a former intern of the church to create an arrangement to share ministry so that Cathey could embrace the new way of relating to time emerging in her vocation and also help the church transition with new pastoral leadership.

“I explored all kinds of things. I made all kinds of what I would call retirement mistakes,” said Cathey, who admitted to overstuffing her weeks off until with the help of the committee she identified three themes.

“Creativity, curiosity and community emerged for me as key themes that I wanted to explore in retirement,” said Cathey. Kim reflected back that these three themes comprised Cathey’s “theological core” for retirement. Kim’s approach as an interviewer is to offer space for her guests to reflect on God at work in their life through their body, heart and soul.  How they attend to these areas of their humanity allows for “soul wisdom” to emerge and to call forth an embodied theology particular to her guest.

Episode 2: Barbara’s Body and Heart: Body care and art

In episode 2, Kim invited Cathey to share how her three themes emerged and took shape in her activities and schedule. Cathey described setting up intentional spaces and morning rituals to encourage meditation. Learning to reframe things as self-care was a growing edge for Cathey which the transitional space into retirement helped smooth over. “I felt like while I was doing ministry, I was all outward focus. There were so many things I wanted to do when I retired that I had not done so or had done minimally.” During her weeks off, Cathey transitioned from reading poetry into writing poetry. Conscious of a fixed income, she found free community art classes through the park system. “I just love drawing, painting, exploring that artistic side,” Cathey said.

She also reframed her regular exercise habit and the management of her health as “body care” to better express God’s desire for her to focus care inward too. “Body care has the effect of self-nurturing … Going to water aerobics is body care. Going for massage or acupuncture is body care. Going to physical therapy is body care. It all is labeled body care, whether it’s work, whether it’s pleasure — whatever it is, it’s in that body care box.”

Episode 3: Barbara’s Heart: Art, language and delight

In the third episode, Barbara shared her sketches in the YouTube video. “I started out and I couldn’t even draw a circle. Over time, I’ve improved, which has been good to see.” For Cathey, drawing is a type of meditation that takes total focus.  Another way her relationship to time has changed is through her recognition of the importance of replenishment.

“I’m aware of other ministers who don’t take a day off a week. They don’t take their vacation. They don’t go on retreats,” she observed, remembering, “and so they’re depleted?” Kim affirmed that she recognized this theme with other people she interviewed: “I keep hearing that from ministers who are retired. Most of them have this regret that they should have taken more.”

“Replenishing has become a key word for me, and I think you need regularly to be replenished and if you’re not, not only are you betraying yourself, but you’re betraying God, your congregation. You’re betraying your purpose and vocation,” said Cathey, who learned the importance of retreat while training as a spiritual director at  Siena Retreat Center in Racine, Wisconsin.

Relationships have played a grounding role in Cathey’s sense of vocation throughout her ministry, and now through friendships and volunteering. “My friends and I talk about, ‘What is our ministry now? What is our vocation? What is our purpose?’…For me, it’s people.” Cathey, who served in predominantly Latino and African churches among other congregations, identified relating to people across cultures as the thing she loved most about ministry. In the last year, she has tutored asylum-seeking teenagers from Honduras and Venezuela in English which allowed her to reawaken her Spanish language skills from her earlier time serving Latino churches.

Moved by Cathey’s witness to how retreat and replenishment has shaped Cathey’s love of God and her care for self and others, Kim closed the series with a prayer for Cathey: “We pray this time of retreat will bring you more growth, and then closeness to God. And then, I believe that there will be bunch of things you can do now, and that you will do so thank you so much.”

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