Why I Have Hope
There was a buzz in the room. It was people connecting, learning, inspiring each other even as each was inspired by our keynote speaker at the Learn It, Live It, Share It Conference designed by our Heartland Faith Formation Working Group. Rev. Dr. David Greenhaw, President of Eden Seminary, came to help us creatively contemplate what it means to learn our sacred texts in the various contexts of our lives. He told stories and we told stories to each other. Together we met friends, longstanding and brand new. There was something more than the sum of the parts in the space we inhabited because there was a Spirit inhabiting us. Oh yes, there was learning and there was love and there was an energy of collaboration that deepened all who dared to be open to it. As I looked around the room, I realized that there were people from all corners of the Heartland, sharing, learning, hoping, and yes, discovering the gift of something more.
“Conferre – to bring together”
What I (and I believe others) was tasting was the reality of exponential spiritual engagement that happens when collaboration is a central feature of our whole life together. Such opportunities open us up to possibilities we might not otherwise have discovered had we stayed in the midst of what is familiar. It seems to me that this is what the organism of the Heartland is intended to be, an ever broad and deep collaboration around whatever the Spirit is leading us to engage across the full spectrum of our life, local, global and everywhere in between. We are called to an energy of “conferre” which means to bring together. Here are just a couple other experiences that have recently stirred this hope of conferre in me.
Shared Youth Group in Kentucky
Recently I had the chance to visit with pastors in Kentucky. It was a wonderful time for me to hear about their lives. Jill Frey shared about the great Outdoor Ministry Opportunities (check those out in this eblast). One of the most important learnings I had was about a shared youth group between our churches that was the fertile ground nurturing one of its former members in her call to ministry. I got to thinking that this is the kind of thing that should be shared across our life. Mostly I got to wondering… what would it be like if we could connect churches who are struggling to put a youth ministry together in touch with each other across our life? What creative work of God might spring forth from that kind of engagement? I don’t know but I have to think God might just use that kind of space to encourage and give birth to things otherwise undreamed.
PTSD Treatment in Sri Lanka
This may seem like a jump from Kentucky and from the Heartland, but I assure you in God’s grand design of spiritual connection it is no jump at all (though it was a long trip). As some of you are aware, I had the privilege of representing you and the United Church of Christ in a pilgrimage of mutual encouragement as the Common Global Ministries Board is encouraging us all to be engaged with our shared ministry in Southern Asia. Our group went to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. Sri Lanka is recovering from a 30-year civil war that ended in 2009. Over 100,000 people were killed. Several of the pastors of the Church of the American Ceylon Mission have studied at Eden Seminary. It was during a pastoral care and counseling class that one of these pastors discovered a weeping in his heart that was given space to begin healing. He realized during his time at Eden not only his own PTSD but that he had a call to tend the post traumatic stress disorder that exists from the war among the people he serves. Our partner connections and collaborations, of which we all are a part, foster this kind of healing in the life of the world. I would love to come to your congregation to share about this pilgrimage. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But there is something more. I discovered in these encounters and many others how God can transform me when I stretch beyond my usual environment and listen deeply to stories of folks who live in other places. Often, I find that it is easy to rehearse the same narrative about the world (and life) in my head and heart with the same people. It can be easy to dig a hole of despair. But every now and then, when I get beyond my known circle, I am inspired and gifted with a sense of new possibilities. This rich gift of discovery is emerging in our life together. And you are or can be a part of it!
Building Capacity for Collaboration That Strengthens the Heart
Could it be that our shared call across the Heartland in this season of our life together is to hone our capacity to collaborate so that the gifts God has already given can be multiplied? I have to think so. So this year we are going to collaborate with the whole church around Rural Ministry by hosting a national conference. We are exploring the possibilities of a Lilly Grant aimed at designing collaborations that can help congregations thrive. And we are continuing to look at how our arrangements of resources and people can best help us live into this work. Dave Plant will share about some of those things in his piece.
Oh yes! I have hope because God keeps reminding me that there is an alternative to the polarization and parochialism so prevalent in the day and time in which we live. And every now and then when I forget, I remember this text which I learned a long time ago:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
Yes! Yes! Yes! I give thanks to God for you all and daily hold you in my prayers. Blessings on you!