Sponsored by the Wesley Leadership Institute, the annual Ministers Convocation was held Feb. 2-5 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. We asked these five pastors to tell us, "What did you learn?"
Oak Ridge District
Each year in February the clergy of the Holston Conference gather for Convocation at Lake Junaluska. I look forward to this time for a variety of reasons. We pastors are sometimes very isolated. Sometimes it is because of geography and the itinerant ministry to which we have committed. But most often that isolation is because of the relationship we must keep to effectively serve our congregations. As a result, we need the fellowship of our colleagues in ministry to vent, grow, share, rejoice, etc. I look forward to Convocation because of the chance to let my hair down, fellowship, and share with people who understand the life that we lead.
This year we discussed the role of our suffering in our ministry. As our opening worship began, we learned about the Call to Worship and what it means. Worship should be a time for us to let go of the focus on ourselves and place our focus squarely on God. As the worship continued, we heard the stories of J.S. Bach, Herman Melville, and a few others who sacrificed much in their lives for their art or mission.
The tone was set for us to think about the importance of our role as pastor in the lives of the people in our churches and communities. I think that convocation reinforced how important it is for me to stay in touch with how I experience the world around me and how that experience affects me both personally and pastorally.
For me, Convocation is a church full of pastors who are sent out to serve and come together for the very same reasons that our local churches meet each week … so that we can go out to serve better. This is what I look forward to the most.
St. Paul (Fountain City) UMC
Convocation 2009 taught me some things and reminded me of much:
- I learned from Gary Mauldin I do not want to see the movie, "Snakes on a Plane."
- I learned from Steve Martin that important Protestant clergy in Germany were painfully and profoundly complicit in supporting Hitler and his policies of anti-Semitism in the years before and during the Second World War.
- I was reminded it is easier to love Jesus when I don’t have to deal with all those other people.
- I was reminded by Greg Jones that the Christian ministry is the worst of jobs and the best of vocations.
- Marva Dawn described the terrible disservice we do to college students when we assure them that if they follow Jesus, it will make them happy.
- I also learned from Marva Dawn about “focal points." When we make “loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves” the focal point of our life, everything changes: how we spend our time, our money, the choices we make.
- I learned how we are killing the mainline churches. We have made God boring.
- I learned that even the intrepid Charlie Maynard has his limits when it comes to hiking in the cold and snow.
- I was reminded prayer functions in our lives much like washing hands. They both protect us in a very dangerous environments.
- I learned Origen described baptism as the ordination of the laity.
- Gary Mauldin reminded me the more you try to control others, the less you will able to influence them.
- I learned from Steve Martin my youth group can be an important asset in the development of a dynamic video ministry.
- I learned from David St. Clair just how cluttered and overcrowded my life is.
- And, I learned there were no serious golfers at Convocation this year.
First Marion UMC
The concept I found most helpful at this year’s convocation was Marva Dawn’s distinction between vocational and occupational ministry. Like many pastors, I have long avoided identifying myself as a “minister,” simply because I want to avoid giving the impression that I believe ministry is only the task of certain people. I appreciate our United Methodist Church’s concept of the ministry of all believers, and I have tried to be very judicious in my choice and use of words to describe my role in that ministry. So I thought.
I have often spoken about the call to vocational ministry, both in describing my own experience and in helping others to talk about theirs. I thought that I was making a very helpful distinction between the ministry of all believers and the “vocational ministry” of clergy. However, in one of our plenary sessions at convocation, Marva Dawn spoke of the universality of vocation for Christians. The very word vocation comes from the Latin word for “call,” and she pointed out that all Christians are called to the same vocation — to glorify God by loving God and neighbors. Some of us have the occupation of leading the church and its members in their faithful response to God’s call.
So, I have a new way of thinking about my role in the church and in the world. We’re all vocational ministers, and my occupation is to facilitate faithful response to the call.
Fountain City UMC
This year’s Minister’s Convocation was an incredible experience for me. I was inspired, challenged, and empowered through this time of training and connection. In the spirit of David Letterman, I offer my top 10 reflections from convocation:
- Snowball fights in the parking lot – Wow, it was cold
- Lake Junaluska having an inch of ice on it – Absolutely beautiful
- “Just A Little Talk With Jesus,” Appalachian Trail Band style
- Workshops that informed and inspired
- Ashley Cleveland – She rocked
- Closing Communion service that challenged us to go out and be the church
- Catching up with friends and making new ones around the meal table
- Opportunity to connect with God through worship and Bible Study
- Marva Dawn – What a well of experience and an example of faithfulness!
- Bouncing new ministry ideas off of other pastors – Priceless
Limestone Cove UMC
Johnson City District
In this mob of ministers, I wondered what we looked like in the hand of God -- like, when we sing? How it must feel having us sit in the hand or rest upon the heart of God? I wonder what God looks like holding each of us.
One night a group came and played bluegrass for the preachers. The first guy, "Tiny," played guitar. He was about 6' 4" and every bit of 300 pounds. His arm was a bit longer than his guitar, which was a little bigger than his belt bigger than his belt buckle.
The only thing bigger than tiny on that stage was the cello. It was pretty well-worn, full of character. The woman who played this thing was not even close to 5 feet tall. She hugged the life into, and out of, that thing to play it. She had to stand on her tippy toes to reach the microphone.
Her husband was a tall string-bean fellow who was hiding behind the music stand. He had a brand new mandolin. It was all shiny and pretty with polished keys -- and was tied over his shoulder with a piece of rope.
Picking the banjo was a young guy. He just stared at the strings, pointing the neck straight to the sky. His fingers were a blur. His brow dripped with beads of sweat.
They started to play. A few started to clap and stomp. Some stood. You could hear some folks murmuring, "Amen." "Bless you, Jesus." "Amen." "Thank you, Jesus." Some hands were lifted up. A tambourine and a harmonica came out of the crowd, and a new sound was formed.
Maybe that was the answer to those earlier questions.