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Sources of New Life

by David Norse Thomas

Church conferences can be, lets face it, weird. Long exhausting days can overwhelm me with an even worse sense of imposters syndrome than my first few weeks of seminary. Sometimes I leave with a nagging feeling that maybe this was the year I should have organized a reading retreat with my friends with my continuing education funds instead. But this year, at the NEXT Church National Gathering, I had a uniquely different experience, and I’m not the only one. This month the NEXT Church blog will share the stories and insights of pastors who attended in person and virtually, and experienced new life and a deeper sense of hope for the people of God we call the Church.

This year, the gathering was in Seattle, and as a child of the Pacific Northwest, it wasn’t just the weather and the mountains that made me feel at home. For three days, I found myself engaging in the conversations with colleagues and friends, hearing from speakers doing the work that I see Jesus’ resurrection made visible in. This was a year full of honesty, tackling the ways in which we can be woven together too tightly without room for the people God is calling into our communities, speaking prophetic words about how we need to shift from constructs of racial reconciliation to repairing relationships and seeking reparations alongside our Black siblings, poetry that spoke to the power of being honest about how difficult the work of the Church can be, and where new life is showing up.

For me, one of the most powerful experiences was a workshop on utilizing design thinking in our congregations. Design thinking centers the experience of people and pushes us to creatively utilize the resources we have, instead of mourning what we lack. It is a powerful tool for opening leaders to new possibilities that God might be calling us to risk trying. In the workshop, we utilized the “Mission: Possible” game, and I took away two surprising paradoxical lessons from this experience. First, being encouraged to look at the resources we were given in the game (in the form of resource cards) set my imagination, and those of my table mates, to be creative with the skills and experiences we have. It seems so simple to start with the gifts God has given us in our congregations, but I realized that we so often start with what we lack, instead of giving thanks for God’s provision.

The other surprise came when our facilitators set firm time limits on our planning. Knowing that we had to make a decision freed us up to be more experimental, and to focus. This rang true personally for me. In my context at Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD, we have a firm deadline for when we have to become financially stable as a congregation, or begin to consider options like calling a part-time pastor, seeking to merge with another congregation, or consider selling our building. This deadline has unleashed unimaginable creativity, curiosity, and a willingness to risk failing that we would not have had otherwise. We have to act, and while we need to discern, decisions have to be made.

I returned from the NEXT Church National Gathering excited, ready to start from a place of gratitude and creativity, and I look forward to attending next year with more stories to tell. I ordered Mission: Possible for our next session meeting, and I am excited to see what our creative, motivated ruling elders dream up.


Rev. David Norse Thomas (he/him/his) is the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD. Known as “the little Church in the woods,” and “the Church full of badass, progressive Grandmas, and everyone’s favorite Aunt and Uncle,” MPC is a dream congregation for Rev. Norse Thomas to explore what radical hospitality and community organizing can unleash in the hands of loving followers of Jesus.

Editor’s note: We invite you to dig more deeply into two of the stage presentations David references by watching the video recordings and engaging with the provided reflection questions:

Continually Growing

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Tanner Pickett and Elizabeth Link are curating a series that will reflect experiences of those in the beginnings of their ministry, particularly through the lens of Trent@Montreat. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear reflections from past and future participants, track leaders, and members of the leadership team of Trent@Montreat. We hope these stories will encourage you along your journey – and maybe encourage you to join us next April! We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!

by Andrew Whaley

“They didn’t teach us that in seminary!” How many times have pastors shared this phrase when relating the beautiful and confusing and frustrating stories of ministry? The truth is, though, that there is no way three years of study can help us to gain even rudimentary exposure to the biblical knowledge, theological skill, questions of pastoral presence, and leadership ability needed to navigate this lifelong calling. In fact, most of those experiences that seminary did not train us for are only learned in the daily practice of ministry in the Church.

Photo from Raleigh Court Presbyterian Facebook page

In August of 2015, I accepted a head of staff position at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. I told the Pastor Nominating Committee during our season of discernment that managing a church staff and daily church administration was the area in which I would need to grow the most.

I was incredibly grateful, then, to learn about the Trent@Montreat conference that I attended in April of that year. Trent@Monteat is a unique conference where participants can sign up for a particular “track” that explores a specific area of practical ministry while participating in worship and social times as a large group. I was overjoyed to learn that one of the tracks for the 2016 conference was titled, “Staff as a Gift Instead of a Headache.”

In sessions with several others pastors who found themselves in similar situations, we met with the Rev. Millie Snyder, the Executive Pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Millie led us in team building exercises we could use with our own church staffs. She walked through how you could lead weekly meetings, conduct regular evaluations, organize requests for vacation time, write job descriptions, observe appropriate boundaries, schedule ministry, and go through hiring processes. She sent us links to particular documents that she uses in her ministry for things like scheduling vacations and policies around personnel issues.
Millie then welcomed our questions, and she and the group helped us to develop strategies to address particular challenges in our congregations. Then, after we had been back in our contexts for a month, she e-mailed the group to follow up and see where we were in our plans.

Having these resources, peers, and an experienced leader is such an asset as I navigate these questions for the first time! Learning in this way is essential to our continual growth as pastors in congregations, and learning experiences like Trent@Montreat are most appropriately offered to us once we have completed our formal theological education. Without the practical experience and the frequent feelings of failure and inadequacy that regularly accompany days in pastoral ministry, lessons about team-building and staff management are hollow. You cannot manufacture these experiences in a classroom or in an internship. They must be learned by necessity and because we are continually called to grow.

Our continual growth in the practice of ministry is one of the ways we live out our sanctification, a theological concept that we do learn in seminary. The Holy Spirit is continually calling us to into deeper faithfulness, not complacency. We need peers who push us beyond ourselves to realize God’s call on our life, mentors and coaches who can give us practical tools to utilize in our ministry, and ongoing opportunities for learning so that the Church might continue to become the fully-functioning Body of Christ.


Andrew C. Whaley is the pastor and head of staff at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, he is a graduate of Rhodes College where he double majored in theatre and religious studies. In 2011 he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary. Andrew previously served the First Presbyterian Church of Jefferson City, Tennessee. He is married to Rebecca and they have two children, Simon (5) and Joanna (2.5). He loves to eat good food, hear hilarious stories, play bad golf, run slowly and regularly, and cheer for lackluster sports teams (the University of Tennessee football team and the Atlanta Braves).

A Time and Place Set Apart

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Tanner Pickett and Elizabeth Link are curating a series that will reflect experiences of those in the beginnings of their ministry, particularly through the lens of Trent@Montreat. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear reflections from past and future participants, track leaders, and members of the leadership team of Trent@Montreat. We hope these stories will encourage you along your journey – and maybe encourage you to join us next April! We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!

by Brandi Casto-Waters

Outside the Sally Jones Pottery Studio in Montreat, NC, there is a sign that says, “Encountering God through relationships, renewal, recreation, and rest.” As a PC(USA) Pastor, I have had that experience in Montreat more times than I can count. During times of grief, conflict, peace, and great joy, Montreat has been for me, as I pray for you, “a place set apart.”

Several years ago at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago I was flipping through the conference program and the page for Trent@Montreat caught my attention. Not only did it include the word Montreat in the title, but it promised to be a “different kind of conference” with tracks related to worship and music, Christian education, pastoral care, preaching, youth, mission, and more. So often as church leaders, we go off to different conferences or continuing education events related to our specific interests or areas of service. I love the Festival of Homiletics. Our church educator is a faithful participant in APCE. The director of music looks forward to Worship and Music at Montreat all year long. The list goes on. Trent@Montreat seemed to offer something for everyone.

At our next staff meeting, we talked about it, registered, and for the first time in the history of First Presbyterian Church, Greer, the church staff went to a continuing education event together. Rather than planning and carrying out all the details related to worship, we worshipped together. Rather than managing the volunteers and ordering the food for the meal, we ate together. Rather than remembering all the materials and arranging the classrooms, we were students together.

It is a little crazy to consider that although we had worked together in the church for ten years, we had not once all sat in the same pew to sing, pray, and hear the word of the Lord proclaimed together.

During the day we all went to our individual tracks. I went to the preaching workshop entitled, “The Relentless Return of Sunday.” The director of music went to the music and worship workshop led by Eric Wall and Theresa Cho. The church administrator and associate pastor spent their time with Pete and Margaret Peery discussing the joys and challenges of pastoral care. The list goes on.

I realize the thought of the entire church staff leaving town at once might make some people nervous but it was good for us and it was good for the church. Elders were happy to offer congregational care and volunteers were glad to tend to building while we were away.

Each member of our staff learned something different through our experience. We all agreed that the workshops were meaningful, the worship was creative, and the leadership was top-notch. Most importantly, we were all grateful to be together in a time and place set apart for encountering God through relationships, renewal, recreation, and rest. Your context may different than ours. You may be a solo pastor, or chaplain, or church professional serving in a non-profit, but the thing about Trent@Montreat is that it is a different kind of conference, so it could be exactly right for you too.


Brandi Casto-Waters has served First Presbyterian Church, Greer, since December of 2006. She received a Bachelor of Science in Religion and Sociology from Presbyterian College, a Master of Divinity from Columbia Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Columbia Seminary. She is married to Rev. Andy Casto-Waters. They have two children, Ella and Lucy.

Trent@Montreat: A Guide for the Journey

by Tanner Pickett and Elizabeth Link

In the winter of 2014, seven of us gathered at Montreat to dream about an idea that would eventually become the first Trent@Montreat conference. With the support of five different organizations (the Trent Fund of Second Presbyterian Church of Roanoke, VA; Union Presbyterian Seminary; Macedonian Ministries; Montreat Conference Center; and NEXT Church), we were able to bring it all to fruition. In April of 2016, we launched an experiment that we felt had incredible potential to build relationships, provide practical resources and experience, and uplift the church. The experiment was an overwhelming success, and we are excited to offer a second, fresh installment of the same concept in 2018 (April 16-19).

Many a pastor has described the Christian life as a pilgrimage, but it is our experience that the Christian life is more nomadic than that. Pilgrims know where their journey is headed, but a nomad goes by uncertain paths. At Trent@Montreat, we aren’t going to give you a destination. We aren’t going to offer you a guide that tells you where to go or what to say. What we do have to offer are tools for the trade and friends for the journey.

It is our desire that this event will raise a deep hope for our denomination, be inclusive and radically open to anyone who is interested in attending, help advance knowledge and skills, foster a real sense of connection, and provide an avenue for relationships to be built and resources to be shared long after this event ends.

In the coming days, we will be sharing some reflections from past and future participants, track leaders, and members of the leadership team of Trent@Montreat. It is our hope that these stories may help encourage you on your way, and perhaps (we hope!) even encourage you to register for this opportunity.

But first, here’s a short video developed by Montreat about the Trent@Montreat experience.


Tanner Pickett is vice president for sales, marketing, and communication at Montreat Conference Center and a member of the NEXT Church strategy team.

 

Elizabeth Link is associate pastor for Christian education at Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, VA. 

Happy New Year!

photo credit: mdesisto via photopin cc

 

New Year, New Continuing Education Funds

Friends, 2015 is here and the NEXT Church National Gathering is only 68 days away! It’s time to put those new ConEd funds to use and register today!

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Join us at the National Gathering as we aspire to put our heads, hearts, and hands to work in 2015: speakers from Tiffany Jana and Mathew Freeman to Diana Butler Bass will spark our imagination, worship will renew our hearts, and workshop leaders will teach us skills for connecting with our specific ministry contexts.

Register now for the National Gathering and don’t forget to book your airfare and lodgings while rooms are still available at the NEXT Church conference rate!

Is there a compelling question, idea, or project that you want to lift up at the National Gathering? Apply now to give an IGNITE presentation!