Yes, I love attending regional and national gatherings!  This year, unfortunately, I had to miss the American Baptist Biennial gathering in Puerto Rico, but I am going with my family to attend my first Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly in Nashville!  Most people might find these sorts of things boring and tedious, but here’s what people may not know:

1. I enjoy seeing colleagues and friends from over the years, including friends of the family (my grandfather was an American Baptist minister along with his brothers and father and grandfather, so there are a lot of people who have fond memories of my family that I enjoy reconnecting with).

2. I enjoy at times the workshops and learning experiences offered (some years are better than others, true!)

3. I enjoy worshiping together with friends in different styles of worship with different musical offerings and preachers.

4. I enjoy the shopping!  There are always books and other resources for sale by denominational publishing groups.

5. I enjoy being part of history when we make decisions with Christ to expand our ministry opportunities.  This does not always happen.  Sometimes we get bogged down in tedious decisions and other times stuck by theological opinions rather than recognizing our common mission with Christ, but at every gathering I have been to, there has been usually one profound experience that reminds me of the importance of this kind of decision-making process and being part of the process with others.

6. I enjoy not having to do dishes or clean–often I get to stay in a hotel, and it’s a nice break.  However, some members will think this is a vacation.  This year, since I am not serving a congregation, it sort of is–yet I’ll also be attending important continuing education events vital to my continued long-term service as a minister.  When you are clergy serving a congregation or serving in another ministry setting, it is not a vacation–it is just like any other vocation when you attend a conference or seminar.  It can be fun, but it is still work.  You’re attending events, lunches, dinners, worship services, meetings, and classes for more than 12 hours a day.  Thank God we get to stay at a hotel and don’t have to come home and do dishes after that!

7. I enjoy the new friendships that are forged at these gatherings–new colleagues, friends of friends–and due to the invention of social media such as Facebook, it is much easier to keep in touch these days and stay connected!

8. I enjoy fulfilling my duty as a representative of my congregation in bringing their voice to the national or regional gathering, and bringing something of the denominational organization back to the congregation, reminding us of our interconnectedness.

9. I enjoy learning about the different ministries and missions of the denomination through the exhibits in the exhibit hall and speaking to leaders around the denomination.  It was at one such gathering that I first learned in 2003 about a mission opportunity in Bulgaria.  Little did I know that in April of 2004 I would be the pastoral leader for a mission trip to Bulgaria (that’s another story for another time–a wonderful life-changing experience!)

10. I enjoy being part of something greater than myself, greater than my local congregation–I enjoy recognizing I am part of a greater body of Christ.  And even at a denominational gathering, it is small in comparison to the world’s Christian family.  At American Baptist gatherings, I know there are many different theological perspectives present but a few unifying principles that we believe in–Believer’s baptism, the priesthood of all believers, the freedom of conscience and soul, and the freedom of the church, to name a few.  I look forward to a similar experience among my Disciples brothers and sisters.

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