I wondered how that could be. But then I remembered that until the Ghost Ranch program director called me in the mid-1990s and asked me to teach a seminar there, I hadn’t heard of it, either. And I grew up Presbyterian. Indeed, the (now) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has owned Ghost Ranch since 1955, when I was 10 years old.
The truth is that we Presbyterians don’t do a good job telling the people in our pews about the many opportunities for education, retreat, growth, and spiritual development available through PC(USA) institutions. As a result, some of these institutions are underused and, worse, many of our people never get a chance to explore what a richer faith might mean to them.
I teach each summer at Ghost Ranch (usually a writing class) and will again in 2011. And my wife now serves on the Ghost Ranch board. So I know what an amazing facility the ranch is and how much it means to so many people. And although I’ve never attended an event at our two other PC(USA) conference centers — Montreat in North Carolina and Stony Point in upstate New York — I know about them and sometimes recommend them to people east of the Mississippi who may find it more convenient to go there than to New Mexico.
But what about all the other opportunities available in PC(USA) facilities? One that came to my attention only this fall is what Princeton Theological Seminary used to call its Center for Continuing Education but now calls its School of Christian Vocation and Mission (SCVM).
Princeton spent a long time evaluating what it was doing in this area and then decided on the name change to better reflect its mission of training both clergy and lay people. The SCVM offers everything from single-topic lectures to seminars lasting several days to courses lasting several weeks for seminary students.
And Princeton is far from the only PC(USA) seminary that has various offerings for pastors to get mid-career training and for lay people to attend seminars and lectures.
Individual churches, too, offer opportunities for both clergy and lay people to get intellectually and spiritually fired up again. My own church brings in outside speakers using what we called our Hage Endowment Fund. Nearby, Village Church has lots of offerings through what it calls its Village University. And in Denver, Montview Boulevard Church is known for its Montview Lectureship.
I’m not suggesting that our congregations suspend all the good ministry they’re doing and head back to school just to jack up our theological IQs. But in a world that changes every 18 nanoseconds, we at least need to be aware of what we don’t know and how we might learn more.
Our denominational headquarters, our synods and presbyteries, our church-wide institutions and our individual congregations seem to be falling down on the job of letting people know about the marvelous opportunities out there to be better trained to minister in the name of Jesus Christ.
And what, after all, is wrong with competence?
But either the information about continuing education isn’t reaching people in the pews or they aren’t being encouraged to take advantage of the possibilities. Sometimes it takes a personal invitation from someone who already knows what’s available.
So consider this column my invitation to you. Yes, feel free to sign up for my July 2011 Ghost Ranch class, but if that doesn’t interest you, check out other opportunities there, at Montreat, at Stony Point, at Princeton’s SCVM or at a church near you. Get retrofitted for ministry in 2011.