I sat in the back of the room, the wall directly behind me and the exit about three chairs away. Sure, I would have to shimmy past three other pastors sitting in the room if I decided on an early exit, but it was only three and I was almost certain we didn’t know one another.
The speaker’s name and topic are lost to me now. Perhaps it was because I didn’t attend the session with any hope of learning. Perhaps it was because the speaker was really boring. More than likely, though, it was because I did not believe I needed to be there at all. Continuing education offered by the annual conference? It had not been more than three years since I had completed three years of Residency and felt I had more than enough “Conference directed education” during that time. I figured the best CE events had to be “out there” somewhere, anywhere but in my own back yard.
I was a Clergy School Holdout.
In September 2012 I attended the West Virginia Annual Conference Clergy School as the incoming “Dean” of the school. How did that happen? I’m still not sure. I am humbled and honored to be serving in this capacity – much more humbled than honored, I would add. More than that, I was really turned around, so to speak, by attending the school in 2012 and experiencing just how wrong I was about our Clergy School.
I heard three very speakers approach the topic of “Healing” in very divergent ways. I felt myself arguing with some of what they had to say. I found myself nodding in agreement with other things. I found myself engaged with a topic I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about since, well, since days I was involved in the Lay Witness Weekend ministry.
More than that, I found myself sharing a space with some pretty incredible people. Colleagues that I had known for years and didn’t get to spend much time with were sitting with me in the sessions. During short breaks, we would catch up. (Admittedly, during boring times in the presentations, we would text!) When we took the longer breaks, I would talk with other colleagues and hear incredible, sometimes heart-breaking stories about ministry and families. Other times, my spirit would be lifted up as a colleague would share that they had been praying for me in my new ministry setting. One time, during a meal in the cafeteria, I witnessed a heated discussion between two people I thought never disagreed. I cannot stress the “heatedness” of their discussion. But then I watched in amazement as God’s Spirit poured out between them in the midst of their differences and they walked away laughing like two co-conspirators in a crime of grace.
During the long Wednesday afternoon “free time” I found myself sitting and sharing stories with a colleague. The minutes piled up and the time slipped away. At some point I remembered that I was angry with this person – but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the exact reason why that was so.
I found myself carried away during worship. I found myself letting go of pre-conceived notions about what we could offer as Continuing Education in West Virginia. I found that I had attended a continuing education event hoping to learn something, anything about healing ministries in the local church and I was healed in the process.
I am no longer a Clergy School Holdout.
Yes, it is a continuing education event. Yes, it is a gathering of clergy – local pastors, elders and deacons – from across the WV Annual Conference. But it is so much more. It is an opportunity to allow the Spirit to revive something essential as I take a break from the sometimes heart-numbing tasks and art of being a clergyperson.
Of course, this year our Clergy School is about “Ministering Across Economic and Cultural Boundaries.” I couldn’t tell you what to exactly expect in what you will learn, hear and see. It will be different than last year and 2014 promises even more changes, I am sure. Yet in the heart of exploring where the Spirit of God might take us, I am encouraging myself to allow them to happen. (One promise I have made to myself and others though is that the Free Time period will NOT get used for anything else!!)
But I can tell you this – even if I were not somehow involved in the Clergy School, I would no longer holdout on attending. I would attend simply because by opening myself up to learning, I found God ready to give me so much more.
I am no longer a Clergy School Holdout…and I am glad.
You can register online until Thursday, September 13th AND as always, you can still register at the door. Visit http://www.wvumc.org/calendar/clergy-school to learn more and register.