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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.

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 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.

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. 

2016 National Gathering Ignite: George Anderson and Lori Raible

George Anderson and Lori Raible share their experiences with new pastor support at the 2016 National Gathering.