This is part of a series of blogs reflecting on the Pastors & Leaders | Deep Faith 2022 conference.
Joyce Peachey Lind is a graduate of Goshen College and is currently a student in the MDiv. Connect program at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). She will graduate with a Master of Divinity in Christian faith formation at the end of April. She and her husband, Myron, live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where Joyce is an associate pastor at Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg. Joyce enjoys music, travel and exploring new places.
As a new pastor, who began my first pastorate in the middle of the pandemic, the image of being in the wilderness seems fitting for pastoring in such a time. My feet are tired from wandering through the pandemic wilderness, and with so much uncertainty and change, it has been challenging at times to lead with a spirit of hopefulness. Like the people of Israel who were stuck in the desert, it has been tempting for me to look back with longing for the past.
My time together with other pastors and church leaders at the Pastors & Leaders conference confirmed for me what I have been reading and hearing in different places — the church is undergoing major shifts. “Going back to church” will likely look different in many ways, and we can’t necessarily expect to return to how things were in the past. How will we make our way forward? What should we do next? How will we know which direction is the right one? Throughout the conference, I was encouraged to identify what still stands within the shifting desert sands and to practice patience as the way forward is unfolding.
The power of music, drama, Scripture and prayer in worship gatherings and Bible studies gave voice to my laments and praise during the conference, and I was reminded to return to the foundation of Jesus Christ and to renew my commitment to following the ways of Jesus.
The workshops I attended offered new ideas and gave me resources to use within my congregation. In a workshop led by Amanda Bleichty, I was introduced to Shalom Readers — a creative way of supporting children and parents in finding children’s books that reflect Jesus’ ways of peace, hospitality and welcoming the stranger.
In Susannah Larry’s workshop, I was encouraged to wrestle with difficult Scriptures in order to reclaim texts that do not seem to belong in the Bible — stories that include harm and offense. Drawing from her book “Leaving Silence,” she challenged participants to consider how we might dig deeper into Scriptures and converse with challenging texts, rather than rejecting them.
Drew Strait’s workshop gave me a clearer definition of Christian nationalism and helped me to better understand the insidious power of media in shaping our thoughts. We were called to name the idolatry of politics and to name and confront the ways Christian nationalism has co-opted the Bible, Christianity and Jesus, as well as our language, and even our prayers. Participants were challenged to begin addressing this idolatry by looking within ourselves and our congregations and to repent of our own complicity with white supremacy.
The conference was filled with honest conversations with other pastors about how we can sustain hope and stay healthy in our work. We were given space to share with one another about our love for our congregations, our concerns for the future of the church and our anxieties about what lies ahead on the wilderness path.
Amid the hubbub of pastors and church leaders exchanging ideas and sharing joys and struggles, I remembered why I began the work of pastoring — why I care about the church and why I still do what I do.
By the end of the conference, I felt empowered and re-energized, and I came away knowing that I am not alone. I may be in the wilderness, but I am traveling with others as we are creating new pathways. Just as God has led God’s people through wilderness places in the past, God is leading us. And Christ is among us, walking with us.
My prayer is that God’s spirit of hope will develop patience within us and guide our feet, as we continue the journey together.
View the recorded sessions from the Pastors & Leaders | Deep Faith 2022 conference here.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.