Inviting participants to “several days of learning that have the potential to transform us,” School for Leadership Training (SLT) coordinator Linda Alley welcomed about 200 people to this year’s event Jan. 18-20 at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg.
And, indeed, over the course of three days, participants engaged in worship, workshops and fellowship with other church leaders, all around the theme of “Oasis.” The Revs. Matt and Elizabeth Myer Boulton offered the keynote addresses.
“When we talk about oasis, we’re talking about both wilderness and refreshment,” said Matt Myer Boulton, president of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. “There is no oasis without the desert.”
That tension and duality framed the goals for the conference, which sought to provide leaders with tools for resilience in their ministries and stamina to make it through times “in the wilderness.”
The Myer Boultons used three “seasons” of the faith journey—longing, repentance and celebration—to focus their presentations. They tied the theme into the church seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter as well as to biblical texts, church history and current events, such as the recent tensions in American race relations. Points were often illustrated via video clips produced by the SALT Project, a not-for-profit organization for which Elizabeth Myer Boulton serves as president and creative director.
After addressing some of the many challenges in ministry and urging the assembled church leaders to be “responsible”—literally, the ones able and willing to respond—to the injustices and difficult places of local and global communities, the Myer Boultons also reminded the group to take time for sabbath and to enjoy God’s presence.
“We fall into the trap of creating sabbath for others but not our own,” Matt Myer Boulton said. “It’s about clearing space so that you can experience the goodness of God. It restores you to your vocation. If you’re not doing that, then your life is out of balance.
“If you are not celebrating you have not received the Good News,” he added. “It’s a sign of the Gospel.”
Eastern Mennonite University President Loren Swartzendruber also emphasized the need for balance in his remarks at the opening worship.
“Leadership is hard, and some challenges simply will not go away,” he said. “We lead as if we were in a sprint instead of a marathon. We neglect to nourish ourselves for the long haul.”
He invited the SLT participants to “drink at the wells of renewal” during the conference.
The schedule also included a plenary panel titled “In Times Like These,” which featured four people sharing openly about places in their lives where they had experienced pain, loss and/or grief and the spiritual practices and other resources that carried them through those times. An optional evening experience called “Praying in Color” invited participants to experience several artistic and kinetic prayer forms as spiritual practices.
Seminar choices included topics such as “Resilient Ministry,” “Vulnerability and Leadership,” “Praying Beyond Words,” and “An Eightfold Path to Christian Spirituality.”
Next year’s School for Leadership Training will be Jan. 16-18, 2017, in Harrisonburg.