The ministers get a Sabbath. The elders get a conference. Regardless of the label, the summer of 2007 promises each group an opportunity for enrichment and renewal.
In this second “off year” between General Assemblies, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly has decided to double-up the offerings that were provided in the first off year, 2005. A pastors’ conference held that year at the Snowbird Resort near Salt Lake City, Utah, drew more than 600 participants. The success of that event has inspired the scheduling of a second installment of the pastors’ event — to be held at Snowbird on June 28-July 1 — and to planning an elder’s conference to be held in Birmingham, Ala., August 29-31.
The “National Pastors’ Sabbath“ will provide inspiring preaching and worship in the mornings and free time in the afternoons. Speakers will include Justo and Catherine Gunsalus GonzÃ¡lez, Robert N. Burkins Sr., M. Craig Barnes. The keynote speaker is Cynthia L. Rigby.
Laird Stuart, pastor of Calvary Church in San Francisco and co-moderator of the planning task force for the event says, “What I remember [about the 2005 conference] is that people caught on to this notion of Sabbath. They came to a conference where they could relax, sit by windows, and read –not accomplish much. They thoroughly enjoyed being together in a setting where they didn’t need to vote on anything. There were no polarizing dynamics to pull us apart.”
Stuart’s co-moderator is Jerry Tankersley, pastor of the Laguna Church in Laguna Beach, Cal. He adds, “We asked the speakers not to focus on the big conflict issues in the denomination. We wanted the pastors to be ministered to, to be cared for. We sensed that the pastors are working under … great stress and needed the opportunity to just be built up.”
Deliberate planning and leadership brought together the Pastors’ Sabbath.
“This started out at the encouragement of Cliff Kirkpatrick. He had heard of a similar event in the RCA [Reformed Church in America] and he wanted us to do this in our denomination,” remarks Stuart.
Seeing the success of the Pastors’ Sabbath, COGA decided this past October to organize the elders’ conference, under the theme, The Elder as Spiritual Leader: Reclaiming the Call.
Two members of COGA, Barbara Corwin, elder of The Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum, Ida., and Bob Wilson, elder of Fellowship Church in Huntsville, Ala., were appointed to co-moderate the event. Speakers will include Melva Costen, Ann Weems, Freda Gardner, Eric Houghey, Corrie Schlosser-Hall, Joan Gray, and William Winter. The majority of the speakers are elders, including Winter, a former governor of Mississippi.
Wilson explains, “We are called to be spiritual leaders, as Joan [Gray] said at GA. There are times when some of us, meaning elders, forget that we are called to be spiritual leaders. We forget about that and become administrators. We are spiritual leaders, and at this particular conference we will be centering around reclaiming that call to be spiritual leaders. I think we’re going to open some eyes of elders who participate.”
Letters will be sent out to every one of the 11,000 churches in the denomination, inviting each one to send one elder (and spouse, if desired) at the church’s expense. “We hope to see teenagers and young adult elders included in the mix,” noted Wilson.
If any spaces remain available, registration will be opened to all PC(USA) elders 60 days before the conference.
Wilson concludes, “This is about helping elders get a glimpse of their whole ministry, capturing the full range of ministry responsibilities put upon them in the Book of Order.” Further information about both events can be found online at www.pcusa.org.