(Arlington Heights, Ill. – DNS) Nearly 350 Disciples pastors recently came together for fellowship, worship and renewal at the inaugural Disciples Pastors’ Conference in the Chicago area.
The Sept. 8-10 event drew clergy from across the United States and Canada for three days of conversation, inspiration and learning. The conference featured well-known preachers Floyd Flake, pastor of Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Queens, N.Y. and Will Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Bill Thomas, associate pastor of Church of the Valley in Van Nuys, Calif., provided music. The conference theme was "Wholeness in a Fragmented World: Mind, Body and Spirit."
In addition to worship, pastors were able to select from several workshops and panel discussions. General Minister and President Sharon Watkins also gave a State of the Church address at the event, and engaged pastors in discussions about the Church’s work in becoming more effectively and efficiently focused on mission..
"We were pleased with the response of so many pastors choosing to attend the conference," said Watkins. "It is important to have occasions such as this when clergy can support each other and find time for rest and renewal. We look forward to hosting additional conferences such as this one."
One highlight of the event was a dinner and conversation for pastors under the age of 40, led by Associate General Minister and Vice-President Todd Adams. Adams noted that the level of participation by pastors and the desire for subsequent conferences "confirmed our need for our pastors to be together and to have some worship experiences in order to maintain their freshness for ministry."
"One of the best parts of the conference was watching the fellowship among other pastors," said Adams who served as staff liaison for the event. "Serving as a local pastor can get isolating, so it was great to see groups of pastors connecting."
Cindy Ballard, pastor of First Christian Church in North Platte, Neb. stated that she came away from the conference feeling positive that Disciples can move forward. "As pastors, we have the resources and the willingness to share resources in ways that will make our forward movement possible," said Ballard. "However we need to network more and this conference was one way of doing that."
Two workshops attracted large numbers of participants. Joretta Marshall, professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care and Counseling at Brite Divinity School led a workshop on forgiveness. The workshop looked at ways to understand the complexity of forgiveness in different contexts and situations. Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. presented a workshop along with Brandon Gilven, associate pastor at St. Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, Kansas, that examined ways to minister to the five generations within the church.
"I loved the fact that the conference gave congregational pastors a chance to share and fellowship," commented Robert Welsh, President of the Council on Christian Unity and one of the participants. "It was also good that pastors were able to provide input to shaping the General Church’s ministry and able to feel connected in a new way."
The idea for the conference grew out of discussions held by the 21st Century Vision Team and pastors in the Kansas City area. Talks have already started about subsequent pastors’ conferences, to be held possibly in the year 2010.