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Pastors from around the country gather at YDS for leadership conference

By Elizabeth Wilkinson '09 M.Div.

The Yale Center for Faith and Culture held a national pastoral leadership conference on the Yale Divinity School campus May 17-19, marking the conclusion of the Center's Faith as a Way of Life project, funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. At the core of the project has been the National Working Group-24 ministers, lay-leaders and theologians who, under the leadership of project director Chris Scharen, have spent three and one-half years in dialogue about the relationship between faith and life within specific contexts: in family life, at work, in relation to citizenship, or in relation to arts and culture.

Miroslav VolfThe conference, which drew about 200 participants, was held to invite others into the discussion. After keynote lectures by Miroslav Volf, director of the Center, and Craig Dykstra, Vice President for Religion, The Lilly Endowment, Inc. and after 20 workshops offered by National Working Group members, participants had plenty to inspire and equip themselves when they walked away.

"My aim, since I had solid funding through the Lilly endowment...was to set a festival table and then fling open the doors to see who would come," Scharen wrote in his blog in the wake of the conference. "It was so gratifying to see pastoral leaders working in varied settings come from around the country, gain new insights and leave inspired for their ministries.

Volf's address, entitled "The Church's Great Malfunctions," offered participants a framework to understand the faith malfunctions our culture faces.

One of the great problems of our culture, Volf suggested, is that for the most part our culture has abandoned trying to fit together an overarching interpretation of life with our idea of human flourishing: "Most of us have come to believe.that the flourishing human life is the experientially satisfying human life. By this we don't mean only that experiential satisfaction is a desirable aspect of human flourishing, which it most manifestly is. It is rather that we cannot imagine ourselves as flourishing if we are not 'happy.'"

Volf suggested that rather than designing our image of God to fit our idea of human flourishing, in which happiness is supreme, we must reverse our thinking and examine the character of God first. We must come to understand that as complicated as these problems are, avoiding malfunction is as simple as loving God and neighbor, and understanding we are made for more than happiness.

Audience members at Pastoral Leadership Conference

Participants responded enthusiastically to Volf, ready to consider the practical application of these ideas. David Mahan, a longtime leader in campus ministry at Yale and emerging scholar in faith and the arts, responded to the lecture asking, "What does it look like in the muck and muddle of daily life? I've got to both explore and model what this looks like on the ground."

In his keynote address, Dykstra spoke on the ecclesiastical and pastoral imaginations. While Dykstra spoke, artist Daniel Weber simultaneously painted, using paper and tempera to bring the address to life for participants. Weber, who has worked in museums and taught collegiate art classes, began painting at churches in 2002 as a ministry to give audiences an additional "visual" tool for worship.

While Dykstra described pastoral imagination as a way of seeing and interpreting that will bring into being that which does not exist, Weber painted small designs the audience could not yet understand. As the figures of young boys in swimming trunks emerged, Dykstra spoke about his experience as a YMCA swimming instructor during his time in seminary, where he taught boys to depend on the buoyancy of water. It is the buoyancy of God, the source of pastoral imagination, he noted, that can give a vision to a church that is different from that of the culture around.

The conference featured a variety of workshops where hands-on work occurred. Mary Naegli, a Presbyterian pastor who teaches at the Phoenix campus of Fuller Seminary, helped participants think about Christian ways of engaging with the news, practicing with those present by discussing a specific newspaper article.

Mako Fujimura, founder of Internal Arts Movement and renowned New York artist, and Marly Youmans, a poet and novelist, invited participants to enter into their artistic experience, sharing with them the collaboration process they have engaged in over the last year, writing and painting in response to one another. Fujimura stressed the importance of cooperating in our creativity, learning to collaborate, knowing that ultimately, "Creativity is God's business."

"I and many others set a rich table and it was, by all accounts, a wonderful and filling banquet," Scharen concluded in his web log reflection about the conference. "In retrospect, however, we set a table but God was the host. The abundance we all felt was a multiplication of the component parts that made more of our offerings that we ourselves could have 'made' happen."

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