The following is a first-person account from Synod of the Trinity Transitional Executive Susan Faye Wonderland following the Big Tent conference in Knoxville, Tenn., which took place from July 30 to Aug. 1.
I learned this past week that “orange” is NOT just for Syracuse University.
I also learned that our PCUSA Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, has enough orange gear to last him through a full conference (and then some) if the orange you are looking to wear is the University of Tennessee!
AND I learned that hills — some pretty steep — are the order of the day in downtown Knoxville, on and around the UT campus. Who knew?
Where was I? At the PCUSA Big Tent gathering of course, along with a smattering of folks from across the Synod of the Trinity!
And as much as I wasn’t sure I could spare the time to go, I am so very grateful that we did! (Thanks Ken for insisting!) It was a fabulous event, and I am brimming over with food for thought and action. Around 850 of us gathered for rich and invigorating worship, thoughtful Bible Study on Luke 15 (led by Westminster College Professor Kang-Yup Na) and a plethora of workshops with excellent leadership. While there were no longer clear “tracks” for folks to participate in multiple conferences while under the same roof, there were enough options in many areas to go deep if one wanted to.
Three featured workshops began the day on Friday, and all participants could take two of them. For me, they became a way of focusing the rest of my time:
- Ministries of Advocacy and Renewal, led by Scott Weimer, Pastor, North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Atlanta (Click here for a full recap.)
- Ministries for Poverty and Hunger, led by Sister Simone Campbell (Sisters of Social Service), Executive Director of NETWORK, and Author of “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change and Community” (Recap here.)
- Ministries Equipping Leaders for Discipleship and Evangelism, led by Rodger Nishioka, Associate Professor of Christian Education, Columbia Theological Seminary (Recap here.)
I heard good conversation about all three throughout the day, and for me, it was a great beginning to do further work in areas of intercultural ministry and the new Global/National ministry initiative: “Educate a Child, Transform the World.” I am anxious to check in with others who were there to hear what you are bringing back and where the Spirit is stirring in you!
Yes, we have had some really tough stuff going on in the denomination this past year, and there is much unfinished business. I did not hear that being ignored; and in fact, my time was filled with any number of “What next?” conversations. This was NOT a Pollyanna gathering by any means!
But what I experienced at the Big Tent was that we are MORE than just the current struggles, and it is clear that the Spirit isn’t done with us yet! We have a huge amount of serious, hard, internal work to do as a church. But even as we pray that happens well, we are called to step out and join Christ and Kingdom activity where ever we can — and those of us who spent time last week in Knoxville had any number of invitations sharing where and how to do just that!
What a gift and continued blessing to be a part of this fellowship of Jesus!
RELATED LINKS FROM BIG TENT