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Why I “Trent”: Attending Trent@Montreat

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 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 Loren Mitchell

As mom of a toddler and as pastor, I don’t get to travel to as many conferences as I’d like. It is important to me that a conference be easily accessible, cost effective, and worth the precious time away from home and office. Trent@Montreat fits squarely into these three categories and I strongly urge you to look at this excellent opportunity. It will renew your sense of call and strengthen your ministry in your individual context.

Here’s why I “Trent.”

Community. Trent at Montreat is accessible in terms of both physical location and online presence. I live in Virginia, so Montreat Conference Center has always been my favorite location for conferences. I can drive there in a few hours and find myself in a beautiful, familiar location not far from Asheville and enjoyable amenities. The conference is set up to be simple to navigate and makes wonderful use of space so conferees are not spread all over the campus. The leadership of Trent@Montreat also makes excellent use of social media and has a strong online presence. Registration is a breeze, as are introductions to conference leadership and selecting the track that best suits your needs. By utilizing online platforms, Trent@Montreat feels like a community before you ever arrive and maintains a thread of connection after you leave.

The best bang for your buck. You can attend Trent@Montreat without breaking your continuing education bank. Some conferences present five-star leadership and amazing networking opportunities, but they require your entire budget to attend. Not so with Trent. Because the mission of Second Presbyterian Roanoke’s Trent Fund aligns so beautifully with those of NEXT Church, Macedonian Ministry, Union Presbyterian Seminary, and Montreat Conference Center, what you discover is leadership that is committed to providing practical education for today’s church leaders in ways that are innovative yet create a comfortable space for learning. You’re getting focused, quality time with other pastors, educators, and leaders that is relational in nature. Combine this with the beautifully renovated Assembly Inn and delicious meals that can be included in your package and this is a great deal.

One track mind. The greatest gift that Trent@Montreat gives you is time. The schedule of the conference allows you time to focus on one track that is of most interest to you. You are contacted ahead of the conference by track leaders and invited to bring resources and ideas that will be pertinent to your group discussions. You are asked to share questions or challenges in your own ministry that might shape the conversations. In addition to this, you are given time to yourself to break away from these groups and work on your own plans for effective ministry moving forward in your own context. I have never attended any other conference with that type of model and I truly believe that it works! At the end of the conference you are given lists of resources and contacts with peers and conference leadership who are willing to continue a relationship with you. In addition to this quality time, you can experience meaningful worship each day with your peers and a keynote speaker that changes each day with a focus on different interesting topics that range from music in worship to Christian education, to outreach ministries.

I attended Trent @ Montreat in its first year and the overwhelming response from attendees was “please host this conference again.” I am so pleased that it is returning in 2018 and I am looking forward to returning and trying a new track. If I have not sold you on this event, take a leap of faith and try it; you will not be disappointed.


Loren Tate Mitchell is currently serving as Associate Pastor of Christian Education at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, VA. Loren has a Bachelor’s degree from Hollins University and two Masters’ degrees from Union Presbyterian Seminary in divinity and Christian education. Loren currently serves as chair of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in the Presbytery of the Peaks and sits on the board of the Presbyterian Community Center. You may occasionally see her writing in The Upper Room and Devozine devotional magazines or Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Storypath; an online children’s book review page. She also has a blog at preachingthumbelina.blogspot.com. Loren, her husband Michael, and their three year old son Kemper very much enjoy spending quality family time together in the Roanoke Valley.

New Ideas and Renewal at Trent@Montreat

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 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 Brandon Frick

“Well, who knows? At least I’ll be at Montreat in the spring.”

That was more or less how I talked myself into going to the first Trent@Montreat in 2016. The tracks looked helpful and there was a great leadership lineup. But, you never really know. So, I made sure to pack extra clothes to hike in and brought an extra couple of books, just in case I ended up having some extra time on my hands from skipping out on plenary and workshops.

Well, the clothes stayed folded in my suitcase and I still haven’t read those books because Trent@Montreat was one of the best conference experiences I’ve ever had.

Photo from the Montreat Conference Center Facebook page

The mini-notes early in the morning got me excited about ministry and allowed me spaces to vision what the next evolution of my church back home might be. The leaders who spoke during these sessions all had a wealth of experience that not only enriched their presentations, but which made for a really rewarding Q&A time afterwards.

I ended up choosing the Christian education track, and found myself surrounded by people with a passion for the spiritual formation of all God’s people. It was a great time of exchanging ideas, sharing successes and not-successes, trouble-shooting, and encouragement. I walked away not only with practical ideas – many of which I’ve been able try in my current context – but with a sense that I was not in this business of formation by myself; there were, and are, creative, faithful people dedicated to disciple-making, and we have the privilege of helping one another.

Worship was really renewing, in part because of its content, in part because I realized I was there worshipping God with other spiritual leaders, and in large part because I didn’t have to plan it (glory to God, indeed!). It was an evening sabbath the likes of which I hadn’t had in far too long.

There was also just the right amount of down time in the afternoons and the evenings. I napped. I checked in at home. I laughed with new friends at stories of flying Bibles and flying-wedding-raptors. I went hiking (never, never do this by yourself, people). I processed through the day. I spent time quiet in God’s presence.

I came away from the whole experience filled with new ideas for my ministry and for the church I currently serve. I came away so happy and encouraged to have colleagues working hard in their ministries. I came away renewed and excited about what God is doing through the church and in the world. Though it’s been almost two years, time and again I draw upon the lessons learned during those few days.

So, what are you doing next spring? How long has it been since you made a pilgrimage to Montreat? Could you use some time away to work towards a more effective ministry? I most certainly could. So, God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be at Trent@Montreat. I hope you will, too.


Brandon Frick is the Associate Pastor for Adult Education, Small Groups and Young Adults at Woods Memorial Presbyterian church and a co-author of the Sarasota Statement. A graduate of Presbyterian College, Princeton Theological Seminary and Baylor University, Brandon is passionate about nurturing and forming disciples of Jesus Christ. He is also passionate about Maryland crab cakes, his family, good books and great music.

Big, Uncertain Moments

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 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 Katherine Norwood

Editors’ note: Trent@Montreat is created for people in their first ten years of ministry. Why is that relevant? As they saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and seminary can only teach you so much. Most people get into their chosen profession only to realize that there are things that they are not prepared to deal with. This post and the previous post are from two people on the cusp of this transition, reflecting on their time in seminary and sharing their hopes for their future ministry.

Often the events that stand out most clearly in our mind are those big, life changing moments. Those turning points where a decision you made or an event that occurred launched you down a new road: graduation, the birth of a child, a milestone achievement, a big move, a discernment process, a calling.

For me, it was the day I moved to college. It felt like everything I had known, every comfort I had for the last 18 years was gone; I was leaving it all behind and starting over. In the months leading up to the move, I tried to imagine what college life would be like: my dorm room, eating in the cafeteria, learning in a huge auditorium. But every time I would try to picture these snapshots of my future college life, my mind came up blank. I had no idea what my dorm room would look like, who my friends would be, or what I would study. My life would be unlike anything it had ever been before, in a good way, I hoped.

Photo from Louisville Seminary Facebook page

Similarly, when I entered seminary, my mind was blank as I tried to picture what it was exactly that I would be learning. Greek and Hebrew, Bible, theology, and then three years later I would graduate totally ready for ministry, right?! What I couldn’t have been able to picture about my seminary education was how my worldview expanded and was shaped. Theology and social justice intertwined in a way I’d never known before. As I learned about racism, liturgy, the Old Testament, sexuality, and ethics, I began to see the world in new and different ways.

I have one year left of my seminary education; one year remaining in this bubble of intensive learning and then out into the wide world I’ll go. Again, I’ll find myself on the precipice of a big life moment, one where nothing is certain about what my life will look like.

But what I have found in these big, uncertain moments is that there are new experiences to be had and a whole lot to learn. When I moved to college, not only was I learning in the classroom, but I was also learning how to navigate the world as an independent adult. When I began seminary, my learning lead to a transformation in my understanding of faith and ministry. After I graduate from seminary and begin ministry, I know there is more learning to be done because no matter how well I think I may have grasped the concepts in seminary, there’s a depth of knowledge I have yet to uncover about real life, hands on ministry. I have been warned about this gap of information from pastors who often like to spout, “they don’t teach you that in seminary.”

I am bound to uncover this knowledge not all at once, not in three years or even ten, but over the course of my life. I believe that the learning that began in seminary will never stop. Whether I am navigating big transitions or the daily grind, my hope is that I will never stop learning and growing because to continue to learn and grow is to lean into the person God is calling me to be.


Katherine Norwood is a 3rd year Masters of Divinity student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a candidate for ordination in the PCUSA. In her free time she enjoys cooking, yoga, and being outside.

Without Training Wheels

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 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 Jessie Light

Editors’ note: Trent@Montreat is created for people in their first ten years of ministry. Why is that relevant? As they saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and seminary can only teach you so much. Most people get into their chosen profession only to realize that there are things that they are not prepared to deal with. The next two posts are from two people on the cusp of this transition, reflecting on their time in seminary and sharing their hopes for their future ministry.

The slightly cooler September air whips through my ponytail as I gain speed, pedaling confidently down the quiet street. A bit awkward on the bike, I make a clunky gear change that slows me down a bit and causes the tires to wobble. Looking down, I suddenly realize that my training wheels – those helpful crutches I had depended on for months, even years – have been removed! Even more surprising, I glance behind my shoulder and realize that I am completely alone on the road, miles away from home. I slow to a stop to breathe for a few minutes and get my bearings.

This is the embodiment of my first three weeks of ministry. And this reflection is the slowing, the stopping to breathe, the trying-to-get-my-bearings.

In many ways, seminary was the best experience of my life thus far. I spent the last three years profoundly reflecting on what Christianity means in the world today, creating some of the most meaningful relationships I’ve ever had, and intentionally cultivating my gifts for ministry. I’ve been biking down this road for awhile now – writing papers, receiving feedback, going to counseling, working in congregations, preaching and leading worship, completing CPE, winding my way through the ordination process. When I graduated in May, I felt a healthy sense of accomplishment; I felt capable and confident, eager to begin my call.

I’m not even sure when the training wheels came off. Were they unscrewed in the middle of my summer internship after I preached my fifth consecutive sermon? Perhaps they were left in the dust when I sat with an anxious and grieving family at the children’s hospital. Regardless, I didn’t notice their absence until this week, until I asked myself for the umpteenth time, “am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have the dream “first call.” As the Monie Pastoral Resident at Preston Hollow Presbyterian, I am responsible for creating and coordinating a brand new worship service on Sunday evenings, for writing all of the church’s liturgy, for teaching a well-established bible study, and for exploring the many other ministry areas of the church over the course of two years. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and to work alongside so many people that I admire and respect.

And still, every day so far, I’ve looked around my still unsettled office asked myself, “am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?” Of course I’m attending scheduled meetings; acquainting myself with the building, staff, and congregation; leading in worship; meeting deadlines; and so on. I feel equipped to fulfill these responsibilities, and for that, I am grateful.

What has been completely unanticipated, and somewhat terrifying, is knowing that I am capable and called, and still feeling like I’m faking it.

Many people in the last few years have reflected on the “imposter syndrome,” the feeling of self-doubt and fear that leads to asking the question, “what if they find out that I’m just faking it? What if they realize what a fraud I really am?” I have realized that I might be especially prone to imposter syndrome as an Enneagram Type 3 (The Achiever) because I am both goal oriented and image-conscious. Certainly there have been moments this month where I have felt confident in myself, but often, they have been overshadowed by this syndrome, this tendency to downplay what I am doing

So here I am, feeling like I’m faking it, all the while being introduced to people as “the newest pastor here at Preston Hollow!” Here I am, finally realizing my own grief that seminary – an incredible chapter of my life – is over, all the while forming a beautiful new community here in Dallas. Here I am, repeatedly asking myself an unhelpful question, all the while doing the work of ministry, the work God is calling me to do.

And as I look down toward the tires of my well-loved bicycle, I realize my knees are shaking but my muscles are strong. Maybe it’s time to trust myself a little more, to trust the training I’ve received and to recognize that I’ve been biking without my training wheels for a long time. As I start to pedal again, I look forward once more, and enjoy the breeze.


Jessie Light completed her Master of Divinity at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in May 2017, and is currently serving as the Monie Pastoral Resident at Preston Hollow Presbyterian in Dallas, TX. Jessie is also a graduate of Vanderbilt University. Prior to serving at PHPC, Jessie worked in various capacities at Village Presbyterian Church (Prairie Village, KS), University Presbyterian Church (Austin, TX), and North Decatur Presbyterian Church (Decatur, GA). Jessie serves on the Executive Board of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and finds joy in baking sourdough bread, writing poetry, and being outside in God’s good creation.

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 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.

Not Alone

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 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 Felipe Martinez

A special opportunity is coming to Montreat Conference Center April 16-19, 2018, where new pastors will gather for training, worship and fellowship as they embark on the journey of pastoral ministry. The event, Trent@Montreat, is a partnership between the Trent Fund of Second Presbyterian Church, Roanoke, Virginia; Union Presbyterian Seminary; Montreat Conference Center; and NEXT Church.

The first few years of ministry represent an important time in the development of a new minister as pastor, and in the life of a congregation excited about its recently ordained leader. A training like Trent@Montreat comes at the right time to help new pastors with tools, perspective, a community of fellow travelers, and needed time away for reflection. Conference organizers are offering several learning tracks, and they invited me to teach a track which I have entitled “On Your Own But Not Alone – Solo Pastoring.” Other tracks are: Mission, Preaching, Education, Worship, Staff/Team Development, Leadership in Conflict, Strategic Planning, Pastoral Care, Youth, Young Adults and Exegeting Your Community.

I remember my first church as a solo pastor. I turned 26 years old the day my wife Tracy and I moved into the manse at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Anne, Illinois. I was fresh out of seminary in Chicago going to a small town of 1,200 people for my first call as a pastor. To say I was in culture shock and wet behind the ears does not begin to convey the challenge I had ahead of me. But fortunately, the members of that congregation were gracious, patient, and willing to enter into relationship with that young city-dweller whom God had called to be their pastor. They nurtured my pastoral instincts, helped shape my preaching, and partnered with me as we ministered together. I like to tell people McCormick Theological Seminary trained me, but that St. Anne Church made me the pastor I am.

Felipe and another cohort he’s a part of: the NEXT Church strategy team.

A conference like Trent@Montreat, with its many tracks to choose from, gives new pastors an opportunity to go contextualize their seminary education, and wrap their heads around the on-the-job training which emerges as ministry takes place in church and community. When I started in pastoral ministry, I had mentors and teachers who helped me as I grew into the role (I was a part of a weekly lectionary group with seasoned preachers and I participated in the Synod of Lincoln Trails three-year support program for new pastors). As I celebrate the silver anniversary of my ordination, I am now in a position to encourage and challenge new pastors, as well as lift up the wisdom and unique perspective they each bring to ministry.

I can’t tell the new pastors at the conference to go to a church like First Presbyterian in St. Anne. What I can tell them is that they can seek opportunities for partnership in their ministry context. I’d warn them against doing everything themselves (solo pastor does not mean they’re alone!). I’d remind them to focus on God’s abundance, and connect with the strengths and passion of their congregation members. I would challenge them to ponder what is at the center of their pastoral identity (do they feel like a pastor, teacher, chaplain, community organizer, etc.?). What I won’t have a chance to do is to speak with the churches where those new pastors are serving. If I could, I would invite them to see their pastor as a leader and partner in ministry. I would also encourage them to keep a sense of anticipation about whatever new thing God is doing in them and through them, because God is always doing a new thing, and we’ll spot it if we are willing to perceive it.


Felipe N. Martinez has been a solo pastor of a small and a medium sized congregation, as well as an Associate Executive Presbyter and Interim Executive Presbyter. He is currently the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Indiana.

High Hopes for the Future

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 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 Agnes Norfleet

When I came home after serving on the leadership team of the first Trent@Montreat conference in Montreat, my husband said, “I have not heard you sound so excited and hopeful about the church in a long time.”

Since I was ordained 30 years ago I’ve witnessed a lot of change and observed some decline in denominational vitality. While we’ve debated important issues, congregations have lost members and presbyteries have lost churches. Outside research shows that fewer people are loyal to all manner of institutions, including the church; inside the church evangelism, member engagement and stewardship are increasingly challenging. During the course of my ministry, the definition of “active” member has changed from a person being in church most Sundays to one who attends worship once or twice a month. Both polling data and pastoral experience have shown some measurable decline.

The good news is the vitality of the church is not based upon statistics! The Trent@Montreat conference reaffirmed that reality for me in some fresh ways by gathering together people who love God and serve the church, who want to be in conversation about creative engagement during these changing church realities, and who have high hopes for the future.

The targeted audience for the 2016 conference was a younger group of pastors, about five years out of seminary. Participants chose a particular track among several options to work on best practices for ministry, but plenary sessions and worship gave all participants some flavor of the variety of offerings. Worship was joyful, meals were occasions to make new friends, and there was plenty of downtime to connect with folks informally to talk about ministry and life in general.

The irony of being a pastor is that while we are surrounded by people, it can be lonely work. We are entrusted with people’s secrets. We help shoulder many burdens. Much of preaching and teaching, pastoral care and administration, requires preparation alone. It is important for all of us who do this work to nurture our interior lives with collegial friendships and conversation.

I was privileged to be part of the leadership team as convener of the preaching track. My hope for the mission of the church was buoyed by being with younger pastoral colleagues for a week, hearing about their commitment as disciples of Christ in varied contexts of doing ministry, and sharing some of the challenges of this exhausting, energizing, and creative calling. Conversation flowed openly and honestly in what felt like a safe space.

I trust that Trent@Montreat 2018 will again offer wonderful ways – in a beautiful place – to nurture pastoral ministry among people who love God, serve the church, want to be creatively engaged in ministry, and who have hope for the future! I look forward to being on the leadership team again and I hope you will consider attending!


Agnes W. Norfleet is pastor of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, PA, since January, 2013, having previously served churches in Columbia, SC, Decatur, GA, and Atlanta, GA. She is a graduate of Davidson College and Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA, and received her doctor of ministry degree in Bible and preaching from Columbia Theological Seminary. Agnes has sermons and articles published in The Abingdon Women’s Preaching Annual, The Presbyterian Outlook, Interpretation: A Journal for Bible and Theology, Lectionary Homiletics, and is a regular contributor and associate editor of Journal for Preachers. An early organizer of NEXT Church, Agnes has enjoyed serving the denomination as guest preacher for many special occasions and conferences, led a track in 2016 for the Trent@Montreat conference, and is currently a Trustee of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Sage Training or Saint Training?

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 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 George Anderson

What’s your pleasure, pastor: sage training or saint training? Before having that Reformed theologian’s knee jerk reaction that rejects the idea of saints – or gives our tradition’s “everyone gets a trophy” spin that we are all made saints by God’s grace – I invite you to consider the question in light of how the Jewish philosopher Maimonides defines sages and saints.

From the Roanoke Times

For Maimonides, a saint (hassid) is not someone who is perfect but someone who is unwavering in her or his defense of a virtue. A sage (hakkam) is someone who understands that politics is the “art of the possible.” The saint will take a stand despite the cost. The sage will consider the costs, is willing to compromise, and can accept losing. The saint leads by taking a stand. The sage leads by holding the middle.

Often, sages are deemed weak and are open to ridicule. I remember a Canadian pastor poking fun at his own country when he reported that the winning submission for a slogan for Canada was: “As Canadian as can be, under the circumstances.” Tweak that a bit, and you have Maimonides’ description of a sage: “As virtuous as can be, under the circumstances.”

Here is the surprising thing about Maimonides: while he says that there are times for both saints to take their stands and sages to hold the middle, most of the time faith communities need sages over saints. The reason is simple: The Jewish (and Christian) community is best served, under normal circumstances, by empathy, patience, compromise, mediation, and balance; all with a spirit of humility and generosity. Jonathan Sacks defended Maimonides’ preference by saying, “The saint may be closer to God, while the sage is closer to doing what God wants us to do, namely bring [God’s] presence into the shared spaces of our collective life.” [1]

In some ways, I see my outstanding seminary education as being largely “saint training.” At seminary, I was given a vision of the Gospel and what the church can be. The more pragmatic aspects of leading a church were considered in the classroom but the emphasis was on the elegant beauty of the Gospel and what the church is called to be in bearing it witness. It was “saint training,” and I’m grateful. If I ever lose a longing for what the church ought to be beyond what it is, someone needs to let me know that it is time for me to retire.

Yet I have come to value and appreciate what Maimonides says about sages. Maimonides says that the lingering traits of God are not of the saint (demanding unblemished sacrifices) but of the sage: “compassion and grace, patience and forgiveness, and the other ‘attributes of mercy.’” [2]

NEXT Church, in seeking to equip leaders for the church of the future, wants to be a support for the sage as well as the saint. In support of “sage training,” NEXT Church is one of the sponsors of the Trent@Montreat 2018 conference. This conference is designed to inspire with its worship, but also equip and support pastors with its tracks that focus on day to day ministry. It is designed to help pastors who want to lead over the long haul and so want to;

  • deal with staff without being consumed by staff issues,
  • or deal with conflict in a way that calms rather than inflames,
  • or encourage generosity both to support missions,
  • and pay the church’s bills,
  • or preach sermons worth listening to Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

For those who risk disappointing a holy God through the compromises that come of loving and leading God’s imperfect people, this conference does more than support them. It celebrates their ministries as reflecting, in their own way, the image of a gracious God.

If you want to know more about Trent@Montreat, visit the conference website or find the Trent@Montreat 2018 Facebook page.


George C. Anderson is the seventh senior pastor in the history of Second Presbyterian Church (Roanoke, VA). He began preaching at Second on February 22, 1998. Previously, he had been the Senior Minister at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS, and an Associate Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, TN. He is a graduate of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC, and Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. George and his wife, Millie, have three daughters: Paige, Rachel, and Virginia. George is one of the creators and conveners of the Trent Symposium and is among the leadership for the Trent@Montreat conference in 2018.

[1] Sacks draw my attention to Maimonides’ definitions of saint and sage in his book, To Heal a Fractured World; The Ethics of Responsibility. This quote is on p. 247.

[2] Sacks, p. 246.

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. 

Diversity, Acceptance, and the Need for Reconciliation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by Jason Brian Santos

For as long as I can remember, the topic of diversity within community has never been a serious point of conversation in my home. Coming from a bi-racial family, navigating the challenges of diversity was a fact of life. Growing up, our holiday dinners and birthday celebrations were always an interesting blend of Filipino culture and Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced Americana. While the food was amazing, our feasts were always accompanied by a myriad of obvious cultural differences and unspoken customs. Inevitably, at times tensions arose; sometimes we figured it out and sometimes we didn’t. Consequently, for most of my life, I just assumed real diversity always came with challenges.

Though I would still maintain that viewpoint today, I had an experience in 2005 that changed my thinking about what happens when a bunch of diverse people come together in Christian community. I was working on an independent study course for my M.Div on the topic of young adult spirituality and the Taizé community. My project included a research trip to Taizé, the small village located in the Burgundy region of France, which is home to over 110 brothers – not to mention over 100,000 spiritual seekers who make pilgrimages to the community every year.

For this vastly diverse group of pilgrims, Taizé has become their “spiritual home.” It doesn’t matter where they are from, what language they speak, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, how much money they make or what religious tradition they’re from – in Taizé, everyone is welcomed and accepted for who they are. Each pilgrim is shown genuine hospitality, a 1,500 year-old hallmark of western monasticism.

In Taizé, all pilgrims pray together three times a day in the Church of Reconciliation using sung prayers written in dozens of languages. They study Scripture in diverse groups, which guarantees an assortment of different perspectives on the passage. They work alongside one another preparing food, distributing meals, and cleaning up. They clean bathrooms together and pick up trash alongside one another. Every pilgrim is expected to participate in the communal practices established by the community: the brothers understand that it is in their very participation that these young adults experience genuine acceptance, which in time opens a path towards reconciliation with one another.

These pilgrims aren’t just tolerating diversity in Taizé for the sake of political correctness; they authentically celebrate it as part of what makes the community feel like a living example of God’s Kingdom on earth. In fact, in my research on why young adults make pilgrimages to Taizé, one of the key themes that surfaced was the “feeling of acceptance.” At the core of this feeling, pilgrims experience a tangible sense of reconciliation. This should come as no surprise, considering that reconciliation has been the doctrine undergirding the Taizé Community since its humble beginnings in 1940.

For the late Brother Roger, the founder and first prior of Taizé, reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. Whether it was offering Jewish refugees sanctuary or caring for German prisoners after the war, the brothers have always sought to be a sign of reconciliation. Even more, as more young Europeans began making pilgrimages to Taizé in the 50s and 60s, the brothers realized they needed to adapt their sacred French liturgies in order to truly welcome the pilgrims into their daily prayers. Latin soon became the primary language used in their sung chants, because it functioned as a universal language belonging to no particular country, nation, or people. Over the course of the next decade, chants in other languages were integrated into Taizé’s prayer book, and the prayers as we now know them gradually emerged. Still today, the sung prayers of the community function as a sign of acceptance and reconciliation.

Come to think of it, it’s rather ironic that these pilgrims find such acceptance in one of the most diverse environments they will likely experience in their lives. Maybe the central reason why is because they are never asked to put aside who they are, as if diversity is a hindrance to reconciliation; instead, through the rhythm of Taizé’s communal practices, the pilgrims are invited to take their gaze off of their own particularities and focus it on what draws them together and unites them – their identity in Christ Jesus. It’s through Christ that we bear witness to the magnitude of God’s reconciliation with all of creation and in Christ, that we are accepted and claimed as children of God.


Jason Brian Santos is the Mission Coordinator for Christian Formation (Christian education, children, youth, college, young adult, camps and conference ministries) at the Presbyterian Mission Agency. He also serves as the National Director of UKirk Collegiate Ministries. He is an ordained teaching elder in the PCUSA and holds a Ph.D. in practical theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of A Community Called Taizé (IVP, 2008) and Sustaining the Pilgrimage (IVP Academic, forthcoming). He currently resides in Louisville, KY with his wife, Shannon and his two sons, Judah and Silas (aka Tutu). In his spare time, he plays and designs board games.