Last week, I attended the inaugural ELCA Rostered Minister’s Gathering in Atlanta, where 900 pastors and deacons assembled for a week of worship, lectures, workshops, service projects, and fellowship. There were congregational leaders, military, hospital, and prison chaplains, campus pastors and seminary professors, and interim and retired ministers, as well as regional and churchwide staff. The event was promoted as a time to be encouraged, challenged, and renewed as leaders in the church, and did not disappoint.
Each day, I had opportunities to reconnect with friends from around the country and meet new friends and colleagues as we shared the joys and struggles of ministry. Bible study leaders led us into the rich story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), with comparisons to this chaotic season filled with death and resurrection moments. Our own Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton confronted the rumors that Christianity is dying, with a bold response, “The Church of Jesus Christ is not dying, but changing!” She continued by sharing stories of how God is using people, congregations, and ministry organizations in new and creative ways to share hope with the world. God is doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43:19).
There were many good moments of challenge, too. Presiding Bishop Eaton, in her opening remarks, reminded us, that ministry can be overwhelming and we can lose focus. “As leaders, you need to love Jesus because Jesus loves you... then, you need to love your people!”
Rev. Ronald Bonner, in his workshop Racism and the Church: No Bigotry Allowed, argued, “If you can fix the heart, you can fix the other part... Racism will end when white people stop accepting racism as normative.” As we spoke candidly about our own biases and histories, none of us could have imagined the events that would unfold in Charlottesville by the end of the week.
Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church and professor at Union Theological Seminary (both in New York City), preached on Romans 12, saying, “the invitation to offer our lives as living sacrifices is not a graveyard death, but an invitation to die to our priorities, die to our selfish agendas, die to our fear, and say ‘My life is in your hands, Lord.’”
Just before we went on our separate directions, popular speaker and writer, Rachel Held Evans, spoke pointedly about the ways we beat ourselves up as people of faith for not being and doing enough for the sake of Christ. She said, “Our insufficiencies are the point. Death is something empires worry about, not resurrection people. We need to let [things] die! We win with surrender. We have a God who knows the way out of the grave.” Although Easter is a long way off, promises of resurrection fuel us, today.
I was also renewed by being part of the musical team for worship and other events throughout the week.
Thank you for valuing continuing education and professional development. This gathering was a tremendous boost. The introductory words proclaimed, “We are a church that believes God is calling us into the world – together. Together, we can achieve things on a scale and scope we could never do otherwise. As we continue to deepen our ecumenical partnerships, confront racism and boldly respond to the needs of the world, this gathering provides the opportunity for leaders to gather and explore what God has in store for us.”
Always being renewed,
For more about this event and to view a photo gallery, https://www.livinglutheran.org/2017/08/25087/