EATONTON, GA – The annual Clergy Conference held Sep 11-13 at Rock Eagle Conference Center was an example of how The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta is doing new things.
Bishop Rob Wright introduced the new approach to the 125 clergy attending. Instead of following the format of prior gatherings – learning from inspiring speakers from around the world – this conference would focus on the gifts and needs of clergy.
“It occurred to me after passing the decade mark (as bishop) that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to just be here with you; to be together as bishop and clergy,” Wright said. “The only ask is that you sit with some ideas.”
Wright presented those ideas during four meditations over the three-day event.
He started with a concept presented at a prior clergy conference by keynoter, The Rev. Martin Smith.
“Martin Smith, SJE, a former guest of this diocese and our conference, wrote once in an address to the House of Bishops in 1997 that a diocese and bishop’s relationship can be understood through the lens of the particular and the panoramic,” Wright said. “The particular for you as ministry heads, deacons, and priests as each of you have been called to the ministry of Jesus Christ in the particular. Your work is in a particular locale with particular people endeavoring to make progress on particular formation and missional goals.
“My ministry as the Bishop is the ministry of panorama overview from the Greek word for oversight. That’s all it is.”
To Smith’s concepts, Wright added a third P, partnership and described the benefits of pairing all three.
“Better problem solving, shared responsibility as it accrues to innovation, and new expressions of fidelity will come with increased relationship and partnership with one another,” he said. “Basically, it is we that is the best technology that we can muster to deal with the most pernicious problems that we’re faced with. We, this room, the insights, the experiences, the gifts, the wounds – all of it in this room – it’s the best way that we can figure out how to go forward.”
And so, bishop, lay ministers, deacons, and clergy continued to explore those ideas and others grounded in Hebrews 13:15-16.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Some of the gifts and needs shared by participants were combined. One was music and singing together.
“Something happens when we sing. We are reminded of who we are, how interconnected we are, said St. Catherine’s Rector, The Rev. Sarah K. Fisher. “This clergy conference was filled with singing, praying (I lost count of the number of times we said the Lord’s Prayer!), laughing, listening, playing, and connecting. I left feeling hopeful, connected, and ready to get back to the joy of serving my parish.”
Canon for Ministry Sally Ulrey gave thanks for worship music.
“Will Buthod, the minister of music at Holy Trinity Parish came to lead worship, and the joy of singing together was palpable” Ulrey said following the conference. “So much of the feedback from the conference listed that as an uplifting, joyful highlight that buoyed the whole tenor of the time together. We definitely worshipped joyfully.”
Another combined gift and need expressed by The Rev. Isaias A. Rodriguez are for the diocese’s growing ministry to people of Hispanic origin.
Rodriguez, who began the Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Atlanta, referred to Hispanism as “the culture that maintains the same spiritual and linguistic values and whose remote origin, in name and cultural evolutionary impetus, comes from Spain.”
“Hispanism encompasses different races with a deep bond to unite them closely and form something great that beats and feels in unison. This cultural and spiritual phenomenon unites millions of people around the world with the common bond of the Spanish language.” Read Fr. Rodreguez’s commentary on Hispanism.
To mark Hispanic Heritage Month the Hispanic clergy at the conference created a video introducing themselves and displaying the flags of countries represented within the congregations of the diocese.
In a recap of the conference Ulrey said “Clergy shared gifts and resources they had to offer, as well as their needs and the needs of their communities, because the theme was about sharing what we have in order to serve all of Middle and North Georgia together, because we are all called to care for this corner of the world together.”
A small sampling of Post-it notes from the conference reflect the gifts, needs and the degree of transparency by those attending.
“Spaces in which to be vulnerable; quiet spaces with friends.”
“Chasubles for short people!”
“A recommendation for a good church sign company.”
“An Angie’s List for churches: contractors, consultants, B&G, Tech/Communications, Sound/AV.”
“10 members who are less than 40 years old.”
“Our Hispanic Missions need your $ support.”
“Practical Ideas for Evangelism in suburbs without a public square.”
“I need new chairs for the Parish Hall (40).”
“I am available to listen and be present for clergy who need to talk about their stresses.”
“I can be a mock candidate for search committees to practice with.”