Saturday, February 7

Reflection on Midwinter Covenant Ministers Conference 2009

It has been two years since I last made it to the Covenant Minsters conference Midwinter. The conference was out at the Hyatte O'hare where it has been held for many years until recently. For any unfamiliar with Midwinter, the conference is a denomination wide gathering of Covenant ministers and church staff: pastors, youth ministers, missionaries etc. We gather for a time to worship have continuing education opportunities in the form of workshops, reconnecting, networking and meeting with conference Superintendents.

The conference began with a worship service on Monday evening that I was unable to attend because I was attending an editorial meeting of the Goth Magazine Kilter for which I am submitting an article for the spring issue on Goth Eucharists. The mornings started with a Bible Study with one of the New Testament professors from North Park Theological Seminary Kline Snodgrass, which I did not attend because they were at 8:30 and I did not feel up to getting up early enough to get out to Rosemont by 8:30 each morning. I however, was looking forward to the workshops I had chosen to take and was looking forward to hearing Phyllis Tickle speak at the Tuesday evening worship service.

Tuesday was a sort of surreal day, for a variety of reasons. On one hand I ended up seeing people upon arriving at the Hyatt before my morning workshop who I had not seen in several years. Also, being in one place with alot of pastors is just something I get use to, maybe some day but I find it a little odd even if good. The the two workshops I had were Global Slavery: presented by Dr. Boaz Johnson from North Park University, and then Bridging the communications Gap by Steve Luce Heidi Grieppe and Don Meyer of the department of communications of the covenant. From an evil in the world in part fueled by poverty and deep levels of inequality to talk about internet and electronic forms of communication that requires a certain amount of wealth to have access to this technology. Both were excellent workshops and were relavant to concerns and situations of our congregation. This blog post is partially coming out of the "Communications Gap" workshop as I felt encouraged to post to our blog something more than just sermons and the Reconciler update. Dr. Johnson not only brought awareness to the issue of slavery in our contemporary world but gave me somethings to think about in terms of how Christians might approach issues of injustice in the world, and how to engage a suffering world in ways that face the reality's and are ready for action but also can move beyond paralysis to constructive engagement through what Dr. Johnson called "virtue ethics." Tuesday evening Phyllis Tickle outlined her sense that we are in the midst of a periodic "emergence" where things get shuffled and the foundations of Christianity are reshuffled and rethought. The last such "emergence" was the Reformation 500 years ago. She spoke of some of the ways Scriptures as the world of God are being reconcieved and retrieved both from Modernism both in its secularist and fundamentalist forms. So the first day of the conference was a full day with much I will be reflecting on for sometime.
Wednesday I had one full day workshop, and then Wednesday evening was free time no planed worship or event. The workshop I attended was Spiritual Direction and Pastoral ministry. This workshop was a time to reflect with the presenters some of the main qualities of Spiritual Direction and how they relate and also are indicative of pastoral ministry. We explored together the ways in which spiritual direction overlapped, informed and differed from pastoral ministry. I met a few other pastors who in addition to being pastors also have a spiritual direction ministry. This was a very helpful workshop to clarify my own ministry as spiritual director pastor and prior, and the workshop leaders encouraged seeing more connections and overlap than discontinuity and difference between pastoral ministry and spiritual direction. At lunch on Wednesday I met with a friend and Covenant pastor with whom I have a very long familial connection both our Grandparents were German missionaries sent out by the same mission organization, my Grandparrents in China and his in Japan. After the war both his family and mine were refuges and found their way to the states and when both families came to the states ended up living on the same farm owned by an American sister mission organization who took both families in. Yet beyond our familial connection we have found our own friendship that only solidified as we have entered pastoral ministry and meet up each Midwinter we both are there. Our midwinter conversations over lunch or supper are one of the main things I look forward to in coming to the conference.

Thursday was another all day workshop: Evangelism in the Smaller Church. I will admit that I chose this workshop with some skepticism. I was intrigued by the targeting a workshop on evangelism for small churches and none of the other workshops offered interested me. I was actually pleasantly surprised. The presenter was definitely from a much more conservative and Evangelical place than I am and he was pretty confident in his use of the categories of "saved" and "unsaved", so I felt like a solid universalist by comparison. However, he was aware of the Covenant's theological diversity and was sensitive to the potential differences between he and his audience. Also, basically his sense of evangelism was telling the story and ones own story of Christian faith. I had to do much translating into my own theological stance and language but I was pleasantly surprised very little of substance that I took issue with and I think I might have learned the most from this workshop of the four I attended.

The conference is closed with a breakfast and a final speaker. I sat at a table with my friend Jonathan Wilson, and a number of people I had never met before so had a few tell me about your self exchanges that took most of the breakfast. The speaker was Gary Haugen president and founder of International Justice Mission (IJM). This organization works on fighting slavery and other forms of oppression through providing legal council as well as doing investigative work to provide evidence to aid local law enforcement to enforce laws against slavery etc. and thus involved in rescuing slaves and other oppressed people. The organization also helps support those brought out of slavery or other oppression to get back on their feet and re-enter society being able to support themselves. His message was one of encouraging us as pastors and our churches to become involved in the fullness of witnessing to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God through advocacy and working actively against injustice (specifically slavery). But he also admitted that this can be overwhelming and he used the story of the feeding of the five thousand to remind us that one God just asks that we bring what we have and that God will take care of the miracle. The solution to our paralysis in the face of great evil and injustice is to remember that we are simply called to bring what we have to these situations and God multiplies what we have and works through our small, seemingly insignificant offerings.

It was a good week, book ended by issues of injutice in our world specifically slavery. I was encouraged in my ministry as a pastor and specifically with this congregation and our ecumenical vision and character. In the coming months I hope to share with you all a bit more of some things I learned or became aware of again. I think this time at Midwinter should be able enrich our life together as a congregation. This I think is largely the point of this conference to encourage pastors and provide a place to connect and have friendships with pastors from across the country and to provide pastors with resources to bring back to their congregations for the continued growth of all in the spiritual life.