Gathering

I spent the last part of last week at a large conference in Phoenix – Best Practices for Ministry (BPM).  This is my third year attending and my first year presenting.  I’m not the best at sitting and listening, and I go primarily for the opportunity to have conversations with guys I don’t otherwise get to very often – and for that purpose it was very, very good.

I presented two different sessions.  The first was more conceptual.  Many of the people at the conference and presenting seem to be from large ministries with lots of staff and resources.  I wanted to offer a chance for people from small communities to gather and talk a little about what they’re dealing with.  Close to 30 people showed up for that.  It’s nice to remember that you aren’t alone in your situation,  as congregations ranging from 25 attendees to 200 attendees were represented.  There wasn’t much substantial that came from the meeting, perhaps, but at least people could perhaps meet someone that they wanted to have further conversation with.  Next year I might make the session a bit more specific in order to guide the conversation a bit more.

The other session was on jail/prison ministry.  Close to a dozen people showed up for that, including some folks with years and years of experience, which was a great asset.  I had prepared a basic flow of information and sharing, and it was nice to have others giving their input as well.  I think that people gained a good feel for the sorts of things one might do as part of an outreach to incarcerated individuals and their family.

Mostly, I was just impressed by what this church does to offer this event.  Nearly 1900 people were registered to attend this year, up from 1500 last year.  I can’t even imagine how many volunteers are on hand each day to feed and answer questions and provide assistance.  The church has a school that has a half day on Thursday and takes Friday off so that the entire facility can be utilized for the conference.  The conference is completely free to attend.  The church pays for everything by setting aside the money they make each summer on their summer camp.  Everyone is friendly and efficient.  It’s really impressive.

You get a bit of everything at the conference.  A few guys wearing their clericals and sweating in the warm Arizona sun.  Plenty of folks who probably haven’t touched a clerical in years.  A cross section of our denomination and a few folks from outside of it.  Pretty much anybody can present on a topic, assuming they have enough room for it.  Nobody is critiquing or vetting what you’re going to talk about or how you’re going to talk about it, which leaves a lot of room for a great diversity of opinions, practices, and even theology.  The St. Louis seminary had a contingent of faculty and the president on hand.  Everyone seemed to get along pretty well.  And again, most of the purpose is just to be together, creating or solidifying relationships, and that’s always a good thing – especially if you don’t agree on important things.

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