A First-Timer Reflects on the Diocesan Clergy Conference
As a first-time attendee to the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina Clergy Conference, I was not entirely sure what to expect in regards to programming, fellowship, down time, etc. and to be honest, I wasn’t sure there would be enough time to take it all in.
I did not want to return to Church of Our Saviour, or my wife and kids, exhausted from an overwhelming conference. I wanted to hear from God, I wanted to connect with other clergy that I did not know already, and I needed some rest. Having been on the periphery of the clergy conference for a few years while working at St. Christopher and being related to just a few of the participants, I had seen the conference evolve a bit over the years.
Our time together did not disappoint, and I was certainly refreshed heading back to Church of Our Saviour later in the week. God certainly worked through the conference in my life and did not disappoint.
John Yates was very engaging, and hearing more about his story and time at the Falls Church was inspiring. As I think about ministry, the first thing that comes to mind is relationships, which obviously take time to build and must be nurtured. John certainly had time to do that in his 40 years at the Falls Church. In his time as rector he witnessed families grow, going through both joyous times and difficult times as he walked alongside them. In all of this, he grew as well, in his faith, wisdom, and leadership ability as their church went through a difficult time but came through it stronger than ever. It stood out to me that he became the rector at the Falls Church, after serving in Pittsburgh, at the same age I was when I began seminary. While I certainly value the life experiences I had in the years prior to the ordained ministry, how they have shaped me and made me into the person I am today, I can’t help but think about how God may have been trying to use me if I had simply said “Yes!” to Him earlier.
One of my biggest takeaways from John Yates’s talks was the image of a soldier, a marathon runner, and a farmer. So often, we get stuck in one mindset in ministry, and we forget this threefold image. There is a time to be a soldier, fighting for the Church, for the truth, in the spiritual battle that is ongoing. There is also a time to endure as a runner does in long distance training. We must put our heads down, breathe in deeply, push on, and endure. Lastly, the image of the farmer, which for me personally can be the most difficult image to live into, we must be patient and wait for the seeds to grow. If we have cared for the soil, planted the seed, watered and fertilized the fields, then the rest is up to God, the Holy Spirit. We cannot make plants grow overnight, and that means our churches may not grow overnight—a new program may fail, we may have to reassess what we’re doing in ministry, re-till the soil, plant new seeds. If we are in this for the long haul, as I believe we are called to be, then we will find ourselves as soldiers, runners, and farmers throughout our lives in ministry; we need to be prepared for this.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was the conversations I was able to have with fellow clergy. Of course, some of these conversations were catching up with my seminary classmates and other close friends, but the ones that stand out the most to me that were some of the most meaningful were the conversations with clergy I did not know well (or at all) prior to the conference. The opportunity to share what I’m doing now, how God is using me, and where I see him taking me long-term with other clergy who have been in similar positions was incredible. These conversations happened throughout the conference, at meals, late at night on porches, and even walking to the closing Eucharist. It was these conversations that helped breathe refreshing life into me after these first few months of drinking from a fire hose as a transitional deacon.
While none of us know what the next year holds in store for us as individuals, as parishes, and as a diocese, I do know one thing: I am excited and humbled to be a member of the clergy of The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina and am looking forward to growing together with and serving alongside this fine group of fellow believers.
By The Rev. Newman Lawrence, Assistant Priest, Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island
(Image by Kitty Strawn)