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A Reflection of Our God

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. In February, Laura Cheifetz curated a series on leadership development. We have one more to add to the series! These blog posts are by people who have been developed as leaders and who, in turn, develop leaders. They are insightful and focused. They offer lessons. What does leadership development look like in your own context? What could it be? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Omayra Gonzalez Mendez

I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a woman, and I have an accent. Does that describe who I am? Of course, the truth is I’m much more, but I must admit that representing those categories has opened many doors. Yes, there were times when I felt I checked all the boxes when different people were needed: woman, young, and Hispanic; I was a perfect package. Sometimes, I questioned if I really had the skills or was just invited to meet the quota. It may seem odd or illogical, but with the desire of the church to have different faces in leadership spaces, it was a blessing.

However, when I was about 18 years old, I met great women of color leaders while serving in Racial Ethnic Young Women Together (REYWT). One of these women, Marnie del Carmen, reminded me that wherever I went I had to make a difference. She preached to me, “Do not erase your accent, do not erase who you are. Share with others about your childhood. Your voice will make a difference. Other people will somehow identify with you and your story.”

Photo from Montreat flickr page

I remember the first time I led an energizer at a Montreat youth conference, perhaps in 2006, and a young Dominican girl approached me. She was excited because my accent reminded her of her mother’s family. I felt that even in the middle of North Carolina with all these people, it was wonderful that there was someone like her, someone to identify with, someone who understood what it is like to have an accent.

I’m more than my ethnicity. I realized that I am also the sister of a woman with disabilities. So, I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a woman, I have an accent, and I grew up in a family with a kid with disability.

Having a relative with a disability gives you another perspective on life. You learn not to complain about everything. You learn the power to believe in yourself. And you especially learn that the world is not made for people who are different or have special needs. Sometimes, not even the church.

For years I have worked in several capacities within the church, but my most prominent roles are in recreation. And as I wrote a few years ago for another publication: “Recreation is more than ‘time to play.’ It is about creating community. I try to lead games that invite people to work together, help people understand the need to be part of the greater body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose. Sometimes people don’t stop to think of the theological part of what they are doing — and that’s okay — but I know that God works in every single moment of the day. Energizers may not be the traditional way of doing worship or teaching the Bible, but is a way and sometimes that’s all that we need — a way to start doing things.”

This summer, while directing recreation in Montreat, my co-leader (Betsy Apple Eldridge) and I set out to plan the events with people who have mobility problems or motor skill challenges in mind.

At the end of the first week, we received a letter from the mother of a young man in a wheelchair thanking us for thinking about him, and finding ways to make him part of the body of Christ through recreation. We do not do things to be recognized, but that letter filled our hearts.

It was a confirmation that in everything we do, small or great act, is a reflection of our God.

The church has much to offer. The church can be that space that creates leaders who are aware of who they are, how they have grown up, and the blessings they can be for other people. We are the face of the church, in all our difference, and it is a gift!


Omayra L. Gonzalez Mendez is a news producer, movie lover, and super passionate about the church. From media reports, pictures and videos, she takes every free minute to work in different organizations of the Presbyterian Church, both locally and internationally. As an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Hato Rey, she works with the youth society and finance ministries. She understand that all parts of the church are equally important, so she can take a summer to sit and follow the committees of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and fly the next day to lead recreation in a youth event. All matters of the church, processes and creation, fascinate her.

Leadership Forged Through Conference Planning

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Laura Cheifetz is curating a series on leadership development. These blog posts are by people who have been developed as leaders and who, in turn, develop leaders. They are insightful and focused. They offer lessons. What does leadership development look like in your own context? What could it be? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Carol Steele

Confession: I am a perfectionist who likes to be in control. I am a “one” on the Enneagram and an ENTJ (emphasis on J) on the Myers-Briggs. I recognize the shortcomings of these describing tools, but I also admit they describe me pretty well.

For me, comfort is derived by creating order (laundry folding, anyone?), poring over details, sleeping on a decision, or hashing out a word choice with people who know more than I do. I feel good when I know that a worship liturgy has been discussed by a focused group of diverse individuals who weren’t under a great deal of time pressure and were free from distraction. I like when everyone around the table has time to think, question, deliberate, and arrive at a (fully proof-read) destination.

So what am I doing working with youth conference planning teams of volunteers who have never met one another, will only ever work on a single project, and are beset by distance, deadlines, and curveballs? Losing my mind, sometimes.

But more often, I am in wonder: at the bonds formed when strangers share a common task; at the teamwork undertaken by adults and youth working as partners; at the faith built when a small group concentrates on how best to create space for their peers to grow in faith.

Photo by Daniel Killilea

So when the words on the screen during their presentation contain a stray comma (or worse); when a discussion requires extra time because the trust required is being built as we go; when the microphone doesn’t come on at precisely the right second because the person operating it just finished exams and is learning their first “real” job; I take a minute and think about the lessons being absorbed, consciously and unconsciously, by everyone, including me, who is taking part in this task.

I believe that along with faith, leadership is being forged as conferences are planned by volunteers and executed by collegiate staff, and that the lessons imparted — even as words slip through misspelled — bear fruit in the church of Jesus Christ and beyond.

Here are a few things you can learn in a summer of working on conferences in Montreat (and also in Mo Ranch, at Massannetta, and Presbyterian Youth Triennium, among others):

  • Way more often than not, leadership involves creating the space for someone who is not you to shine. Leadership is 99% behind the scenes.
  • When that person shines, they will receive 100% of the credit for everything that went well.
  • When things go wrong, it will feel like the blame is all on you, whether it is or not.
  • Something that you thought was well intentioned and fully prepared will, in fact, contain a flaw. That flaw will be pointed out, and therein lies an opportunity to learn, and to avoid that particular mistake in the future.
  • When there’s too much communication behind the scenes, the worst thing that can happen is: nothing. When there is not enough communication behind the scenes, he worst thing that can happen is: everything.
  • Communicating with people face-to-face is hard. Being vulnerable and taking responsibility for mistakes is hard. Getting over it when you make a mistake, and not making yourself the center of things, takes work, and it’s necessary.
  • When we worship God is the audience; the congregation the actors; and the leaders the stagehands (thanks, Kierkegaard).
  • Assume nothing and take the initiative.

To be sure, these same leadership lessons can be picked up in other places. What I get to witness as teams choose a conference theme or plan a recreation event is learning that takes place across generations, theological viewpoints, and a host of other differences, and in an environment where leaders young and old are encouraged to lean on one another as they ask what any of this has to do with following Christ.

As leaders emerge, youth and adults alike are more comfortable putting words to their faith experiences, more confident in their own ability to made decisions and take initiative, and happier in their own skins, having been affirmed in the knowledge that their gifts are actually, really, truly there, bestowed by God.

If you know someone — youth, college student, or adult — who wants to learn leadership in an environment that builds community and expands faith, encourage them to check out our denomination’s camp and conference centers. We’re doing it all the time, behind the scenes.


Carol Steele is vice president for program at Montreat Conference Center, where she has worked with over 20 volunteer conference planning teams and enough years’ worth of collegiate summer staff to make her feel pretty solidly middle aged. Before working in Montreat, she received an MDiv/MACE from Union Presbyterian Seminary and worked on Capitol Hill answering constituent mail.

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).

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 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 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.

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.

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 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 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 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.