Eastern Mennonite Seminary faculty members discuss themes during the 2016 Seminar for Leadership Training. The 50th anniversary event is slated for Jan. 14-16, 2019. Professor David Evans, holding the microphone in the photo, will join John Pavlovitz and Sue Park-Hur as keynote speakers. (EMU file photo)

50th annual School for Leadership Training themed ‘Thriving in the Stormy Seas of Change’

The theme for the 50th annual School for Leadership Training (SLT) at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) – “Thriving in the Stormy Seas of Change” – reflects both SLT’s ongoing relevance and its half-century legacy of inviting church leaders to join in worship and renewal.

The Jan. 14-16, 2019, event will highlight the Mark 4:35-41 narrative of Jesus’ crossing the stormy sea with his disciples, and feature keynote speakers John Pavlovitz, Sue Park-Hur and David Evans, plus seminars, facilitated conversation circles and luncheon discussions.

In addition, participants are invited to join in worship and sharing, a church leaders/pastor appreciation breakfast with President Susan Schultz Huxman, and a story slam competition in which participants can volunteer to tell humorous stories from their ministry experiences.

The deadline for early registration is Friday, Nov. 30.

“Church leaders and pastors are keenly aware of the needs in their congregations,” said SLT coordinator Veva Mumaw. “Like other years, this will be a chance for them to find strength to thrive, to be inspired along with other ministers, and to become renewed in their calling to serve.”

This year, financial assistance is available through the Thriving in Ministry Lilly grant for pastors whose continuing education funding is insufficient or who as bi-vocational pastors face financial constraints.

“The seminary’s 50-year commitment to offering School for Leadership Training reflects its steadfast commitment not only to training women and men for ministry but also to supporting and nurturing pastors in the years following their seminary training,” said EMS Thriving in Ministry grant director Brenda Martin Hurst, who led the SLT planning committee from 2002-07 and is on the committee again this year. “For the next five years, this grant will support EMS in offering SLT, focusing on helping pastors to thrive and to navigate the transitions they experience in ministry.”

Keynote speakers

Pavlovitz will present three keynote addresses. A pastor for two decades, writer and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina, Pavlovitz blogs about Stuff That Needs To Be Said and has published A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017) and HOPE and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

Park-Hur will provide the first keynote address. The denominational minister for leadership development and transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, Park-Hur is co-director of the Los Angeles peace center ReconciliAsian specializing in conflict transformation and restorative justice for immigrant churches. She served as co-lead pastor of Mt. View Mennonite Church in Upland, California, and co-church planter of Church for Others in Temple City. In addition, she taught theological English to pastors from overseas at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is trained in Intercultural Development Inventory and sexual abuse investigations, and is a Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience practitioner.

Evans will present the fourth keynote address. An associate professor of history and intercultural studies and the director of cross-cultural programs at EMS, Evans focuses his teaching and research on the braided identity categories of race, religion, and nation. He is the co-editor of Between the World of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Christianity (Cascade, 2018), and practices a local “eco-lutionary” lifestyle that promotes an ecologically just future for the diverse people of the Shenandoah Valley watershed. He is a United Methodist.

Themes reflect change

Past themes reflect SLT’s developing and persistent engagement with issues facing church leadership, from 1971’s theme of “The Church in the 70’s” to 1982’s “Creating a Resourceful Ministry” to 1993’s “Which Way Worship?”

“Over the years the themes became more relevant and interesting as opposed to purely academic lectures,” said Linda Alley, an ordained minister and spiritual director who from 2006-16 was involved with SLT as an assistant or director and in previous years participated with her pastor husband and as a seminary student.

Increasing diversity among the attendees led also to a widening array of workshops that met various needs in church leaders: for networking within and across denominational boundaries, for meaningful continuing education, for a chance to experience worship not as leaders but as participants, Alley said.

Its name’s evolution suggests a broadening understanding of leadership in congregations: The event first took place in 1970, with the name “Ministers Week.” In 1983 the name expanded to “Minister Week: School for Leadership Training.” By the mid-90s it had transitioned to just “School for Leadership Training.”

“It truly was a refreshment to the soul for many busy leaders who needed time for self-care and renewal,” Alley said. She continues to follow the works of two past SLT lecturers in particular, Tilda Norburg (Gestalt Pastoral Care) and Ruth Haley Barton (the Transforming Center).

Learning and sharing in 2019

This year’s SLT includes a variety of seminars, facilitated conversation circles and luncheon discussions.

Seminars will include:

  • “Building resilience and practicing self-care as pastors” with Park-Hur;
  • “Embracing the Beauty of Failure” with Pavlovitz;
  • “Such time as this?” with Victor Gomez, Virginia United Methodist Church Harrisonburg district superintendent;
  • “Gather up the Fragments: An Ecclesioculture for Thriving Small Churches” with Bradley Roth, pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church, Moundridge, Kansas;
  • “‘The Thundering Silence’: Hearing and Ministering to Combat Veterans suffering from PTSD and Moral Injury” with Darin Busé, pastor of Riverside United Methodist Church, Fulks Run, Virginia.
  • “It’s always been about bodies” with EMS instructor Mary Thiessen Nation and Harrigan McMahan Bowman, an elder at Early Church in Harrisonburg; and
  • “Reading the Clouds” with Maren Tyedmers-Hange, co-pastor at Charlottesville (Virginia) Mennonite Church.

Facilitated conversation circles will include:

  • “The Loneliness of Leadership” led by Sue Cockley, EMU dean of graduate and seminary;
  • “Pastoring in Polarizing Times” led by Todd Friesen, pastor of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania;
  • “Help, I’m a solo pastor! Things I didn’t know I would have to do” led by EMS Professor Lonnie Yoder; and
  • “Bats in the belfry” led by Jeff Mumaw, a former mental health worker.

Luncheon discussion options will be “Ministry in Anabaptist Churches” for students, leaders and conference ministers to network, and a “Women in Ministry Gathering” led by Hurst.