The conference in Orlando was delightfully more than I had anticipated. I’m interested in non-pastoral ministry and am working on starting my second career at the age of 62 so I came anticipating that many aspects would be unimportant to me. I hoped to be able to talk with pastors and regional leaders to get a sense of how my idea for a pastoral coaching ministry might be better articulated. My focus was on business, so to speak.
I found what I was looking for and an even clearer sense of where I might aim myself. I also got strong confirmation that my current path is a good and true one and that I should persist.
I was pleasantly surprised in other ways, which I had not anticipated - perhaps even resisted. The information in the morning sessions was important and several of the educational workshops in the afternoon were thought provoking, but the best part of the conference for me was the conversation at meals and between sessions. The sharing was at a level I seldom experience for such a diverse and large group. I normally think of myself as closed and even distant. I found myself, instead, having delightful and warm conversations with all sorts of folk. I swapped CPE stories with one seminarian. I met folks long into their ministries and still vibrantly alive. I met people just getting started or anticipating getting started and they had even more energy. And, they were all willing to share their passions and listen to mine. I was energized and encouraged. I guess my “too shy” self-image needs some revision.
Finally, I found the worship events to be much more comforting and holy than my usual experiences with worship that features preaching and praise singing. Three of the preachers greatly touched my deepest spiritual yearnings. I currently worship with a group of people who are “sitting in the window”. Their mental illness makes them modern day lepers. I intimately know that urge to shun and move away from those quite different from the norm. I equally well know the gift of Holy Spirit healing when I’ve stepped closer instead of shying away.
I practice time honored but often rejected contemplative practices. Hearing a message that called on me to practice stillness, awareness, and playfulness to access the fountain of living water within myself surprised me and brought me to joyful tears. I was reading, The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris while at the conference and something Norris wrote captures my experience with worship, “In any institution, while there’s always the sacred way we’ve always done it,” and certainly a place for the traditions that such an attitude reflects, there is also a spirit at work that has more to do with being than with doing.”
My conference experiences helped equip me for ministry in surprising ways. I’m even more sure of my call to coach. I’m clearer about how to go forward with spiritual disciplines of silence, stillness and meditation and it was a blast having them affirmed by Baptists! Finally, my sense of who my fellow ABC brothers and sisters are has been deepened and broadened. For all of that I am grateful.
Thomas Brown, Central-WI M.Div student