Poet Ross Gay felt as though he needed something that would ground him during the throes of the 2016 election cycle.
On his 42nd birthday, he began a yearlong effort to write a daily essay about something that day that delighted him. A year later, The Book of Delights was birthed.
Gay says, “It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle.”
As I sat reading this collection of essays after the 2020 election – that made 2016 look civil – I was overcome with the atrophied delight muscles in my own being.
As a new pastor living through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, it has been anything but delightful to daily be reminded of my own mortality and that of the people I love the most.
In 2020, delight was difficult to find and certainly difficult to highlight, even if for oneself, due to the suffering that was surrounding all of us.
Like most people, I learned new skills to cope with the pandemic. Like most parents, I learned the art of making my house look calm and clean in the Zoom frame, when in reality it was anything but calm and clean.
Delight was not among my list of emotions. However, as I read The Book of Delights, it became obvious that I needed to nurture in myself a spirituality of delight. It was then that “The Delightful Church” project was birthed.
Though Gay’s work is not overtly spiritual, it offers the possibility of a deep spirituality marked by attentiveness, intention and joy.
After a fall pilgrimage that helped connect our church, First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, to a few other churches in this time of isolation, I thought it might be interesting to involve multiple congregations in this experience.
Four other congregations – First Baptist Church in America, First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, First Baptist Church of Austin, and Providence Church in Charleston, South Carolina – along with FBC Savannah have people committed to walking this journey of delight over the next several months.
James Williams, pastor of FBC Philadelphia says, “The Delightful Church project is providing participants with the opportunity to engage with contextually similar Baptist communities across the country.”
“While the program is only beginning, I already sense in some participants the budding delight that comes from learning that we do not live in isolation!” he said. “As we continue to cultivate disciplines of delight in our personal lives, I also expect that participants will develop a more robust sense of the size and diversity of the community of God and will see the potential that accompanies cooperation – we can do more together!”
During the first collective meeting on Super Bowl Sunday, pre-existing connections between several participants from the other communities became evident.
Jamie Washam, pastor of the First Baptist Church in America says, “One of the delights of this project is the ability to connect with other Baptist and church circles. Participants knew members of the other communities, from childhood, or having met before in Georgia (think Tbilisi, not Atlanta).”
For four months, we have committed to practicing delight each day and recording it in the way most appropriate to each of our gifts.
Some have recorded their delight through songwriting; others by essays like in The Book of Delights. We have artists who are using this as a time to paint their delights and photographers who are capturing their delights on camera.
At the end of our four months together, we hope to have various artifacts of this time of intentional delight.
In addition to the daily, individual rhythm, all participants are gathering together in a collective once a month for a time of sharing, worship and workshop.
During the first collective, Chris Hendricks from FBC Savannah shared about his daily journaling practice that he has sustained for almost the last 30 years.
He began this in graduate school as a way to remember the intricacies of his summer school experience on Nantucket Island, and he has sustained the practice as a way to process and remember each day since.
This practice of intentional reflection is one among many ways the group will highlight cultivating delight over the next few months.
Each participant in the project has also been assigned to a smaller group for more intimate and guided dialogue. This portion of the project will be the way participants create relationships with one another.
“I look forward to learning from the other writers about their lives, their faith and spiritual journeys,” said Ashley Williams, a participant from FBC Savannah.
To her, the Baptist connection in this time of isolation is ever so important: “I love the idea of writing in this context, with fellow Baptists from churches in different places but similarities in belief and commitments,” she says.
Together, these five congregations will walk this road of delight.
It is not lost upon us that this project will finish during the Easter season. It is our hope that through the discipline of delight, we will all be able to experience new life and resurrection in the days to come.
“A silver lining of the virtual realities of covidtide is the dissolving of distance,” says Washam.
A delightful silver lining, indeed.
Editor’s note: You can learn more about the project and read some of the stories from the participants at DelightfulBaptists.com
Co-Pastor of First Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia. She is co-pastor with her husband, John, whom she met at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.