In mid-October, I attended a two-day Congregational Symposium titled AWAKENING, hosted by the First Congregational Church of Marshalltown, Iowa. I know Becky posted on Facebook that I had gone to a symposium and a definition of a symposium was a drinking party. She did not include it is also a collection of essays or papers on a particular subject presented by various contributors for convivial discussion. What I attended conformed more to the latter definition. The group was composed of the presenters, clergy, and laypeople. There were several presenters, many of whom I have met and known for some time, and I had no reservation about the people; in fact, I was looking forward to seeing them. Several of the presentations were going to be on the ministers’ doctoral dissertations.
After I sent my registration and the date grew closer, I began questioning attending. This being my first symposium, I began questioning how interesting the presentations might be and if I would be able to follow the presentation.
Many of the presentations were indeed abbreviated doctoral dissertations; but not only could I follow them, I was enlightened (Awakened) by them. After listening to presenters, we broke into assigned small groups to discuss what we heard, how it may have value, or to ask questions for the group to discuss. Having the assigned groups worked great, because we became comfortable with the five or six people in our group. As our comfort level grew, discussions became more open; and people identified issues they were dealing with at their churches. Often it was something someone else in the group had dealt with -- or at least was familiar with -- and could provide some input or things to consider.
Overall, the symposium was truly an Awakening for me; and I am still sorting through all I experienced, heard, and shared while attending. There was time for fellowship and sharing ideas some had used to “awaken” their congregations — some of which may appear within Arbor Grove in the future.
The keynote speaker was Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes, a biblical scholar and Senior Minister of Christian Community Church (UCC) – the Christian partner in the Omaha, Nebraska, renewed Tri-Faith Initiative, in which a synagogue, a church, and a mosque are co-locating to a shared 35-acre commons. Dr. Elnes has written several books on faith, theology, and culture, including Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Spiritual Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity; and Asphalt Jesus: Finding a New Christian Faith on the Highways of America. Dr. Elnes’ presentation was lively and filled with many interesting points, delivered with humor and personal stories. He is a theologian, Biblical scholar, and author; but his presentation and humble character are refreshing and awakening, as are his books.
I purchased the three books mentioned above and have read and enjoyed them. I found them informative and thought provoking. I will loan them to anyone who may be interested. It is very likely you will hear more about his books and ideas gathered from discussions at the symposium in the future, as I find ways to work them into sermons and other aspects of Arbor Grove.
As always, I ask our Lord for guidance, strength, comfort, and patience.
Rev. Jerry W. Turner