So, I fulfilled my one annual ordination obligation by attending our regional conference gathering this past Saturday. This year they did a series of one-day conferences at 6 various locations instead of everyone from all three states (Iowa, Illinois & Indiana) getting together in a central location. Apparently this was so people didn't have to travel so far. I can't say whether I liked the idea or not. My opinion on the subject is pretty irrelevant.
Anyway, it was called the "Connect One-Day Conference." It was held at Oak Grove in rural Columbia City. It started at 9 am and was to end at 4 pm. I left around 1:15 (after lunch). I was happy that I was able to stay that long, and generally glad that I went.
Let me tell ya though... On my way there (40 minute drive) I was as nervous as I have been in a long, long time. I was not sure who was going to be there from the "old" church, but I was pretty sure SOMEONE from the board would be there. This would be the first time where we'd be in the same place at the same time. And... not only were there 3 of the more integral people in my losing my previous job there, but the interim pastor who was part of the whole thing was there too. I did not expect that.
So, I walked in and quickly grabbed a seat in the back row of the sanctuary. The 3 board members and the current pastor (who I actually like) were seated on the same side and 3 rows in front of me. I didn't realize until later that the interim pastor was actually seated just 2 rows in front of me. I hate to admit it, but it was hard for me to sit behind them and have to see them. That's actually why I left after lunch: I just didn't think I could stand it anymore. I can't stand the fact that I am not allowed to speak to them, and that they apparently have no desire to speak to me. I left somewhat disappointed, because I thought maybe one of them would say something, that they would break the ice, but they didn't. Jane and I have reached out on several occasions and asked to talk with them, and they have made it clear they have no interest in reconciliation of any kind. I find that totally sad, and, frankly, I'm not sure how they get away with it (as church leaders). It doesn't seem fair that the interim pastor who was there for a very short time gets to maintain a friendship with them, but being there for 14 years and going through all sorts of things together... we don't get to. So, I couldn't handle it anymore, and I left.
As far as the conference... Again... my opinion does not matter, but it was weird. It seemed really foreign to me. I felt very out of place. I will give several people credit in that they did try to make me feel welcome. I appreciated that. I think they were aware of the awkwardness of the situation for me. So, it's one of those "it's not you, it's me" things. It wasn't terrible.
The format was: a welcome time of worship and explanation of things, then they had 4 "Connect" breakout sessions that lasted 1/2 hour each. We were split into groups of 12-15 people and were directed to which breakouts we could go to. Between the breakouts everyone gathered back together and they would give reports or something.
I attended 2 breakouts: one was by my friend, Steve, who talked about "Having a Community Impact in a Small Town." He actually talked about things that I had been a part of at one time, and I appreciated him including me in the conversation. The second breakout was on "Church Transformation Tools." This one was... interesting... and pretty indicative of the overall tone of things to me. There are a lot of people who's main concern is still: "how do we get more people to come to our church," and "how do we get more people involved in Sunday morning stuff," and "why won't people help," and on and on and on. There was one point where I just wanted to SCREAM and say, "DO ANY OF THESE THINGS REALLY MATTER????" Unfortunately, they do matter to too many people. I suppose that was another reason I didn't stick around.
The one shining moment for me, personally, was actually during that second breakout session. I actually did speak at one point. I said something about there being a difference between people finding their calling vs. getting people to fill roles, and the importance of intentional discipleship. What was significant, though, is that when I said it, it was hard for me to keep from bursting into tears. I REMEMBER that feeling. I REMEMBER that happening to me... before. To me, it was a sign that there IS some passion inside of me again. Then, yesterday while we were at the Sunday gathering, I began to weep during the singing part, and the sermon really spoke to me. So... I felt good about that. I will actually write about the message from church in a separate post.
So, as far as this conference went... it was nice to see some old friends (even though I missed seeing many others). I appreciated Steve making me feel like I actually did used to be a part of something and had a brain. I was glad Ed came up and talked to me. I was, and still am, disappointed in the leaders from the old church though, and just the situation in general. So... whatever. It happened. It's over. Life goes on.