I drove myself to my first Christians Engaged in Faith Formation Conference four years ago. I didn’t know anyone. The topics being covered were new and interesting, and sometimes over my head. At meals I sought out empty seats at friendly looking tables. On the third day, I was introduced to the group from Northern IL who invited me to dinner at their cabin. Over a delicious pasta meal, we prayed, laughed and shared. From that dinner on members of this group have generously shared lesson plans, collaborated on youth events, helped each other in tough times, prayed regularly for one another, and continuously widened the circle to include other Christian educators in our quarterly gatherings. This group has transformed into a community of practice focused collaborating on the hard work of ministry, supporting and caring for one another in the process.
Last week I attended the #cef2016 conference in Nashville both as a Christian educator in the local church and as a part time content manager for CEF. I traveled with my Northern IL companions. Eight hours each way in the car was filled with laughter and tears as we caught up on our lives and ministries. When I arrived in Nashville my rich network of colleagues grew even larger as I connected with people in Oregon, Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and the UK. I met people face to face whom I had only known by email or phone. At meals I realized I had more people to try to connect with than I could find. At the networking fair I shared with Delia Halverson that her book, Let the Children Give, was the first Christian Ed book I had ever purchased. I stumbled across it as a parent long before I started I professional ministry as I looked for ways to raise generous children. I could not have imagined that ten years later I would have been talking with her face to face.
Now that I am home, I am able to reflect upon the rich network of colleagues and friends that has grown in these last four + years I have served as a church staff member. I give thanks to God for this call to ministry. But the truth is, children’s and youth ministry can be really hard. At the conference Diana Butler Bass shared the hopes and challenges of a rapidly changing religious landscape. People are searching for the Divine, but they are looking beyond the walls of institutions. (Check out her newest book, Grounded). They are looking for (and finding) God present what surrounds them…neighbors, current events, friends, nature. I certainly encounter God working through and in my colleagues.
CEF has recently shifted focus and is working hard to become an organization which nurtures communities of practice. If you are curious about that, please contact me. Community is essential.
For Conference Prayer Station information go to DeDe Reilly’s blog.