Trent@Montreat: A Week of Renewal

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Union Presbyterian Seminary 2014 graduates– Jay Atkinson, Mandy Hill Newman, and Allysen Schaaf

One of the greatest gifts that an individual can take away when they leave seminary is a cohort of great friends and colleagues. Searching for a call and then figuring out how to make everything you learned (and didn’t!) over the last several years make sense can be stressful, scary, and disheartening when approached alone. I am grateful for my friends and colleagues, and am continually inspired by the stories that my mentors share about their own cohorts that have lasted ten, twenty, thirty and even sixty years post-seminary.

One of the greatest gifts that an individual can take away when they leave seminary is a cohort of great friends and colleagues. Searching for a call and then figuring out how to make everything you learned (and didn’t!) over the last several years make sense can be stressful, scary, and disheartening when approached alone. I am grateful for my friends and colleagues, and am continually inspired by the stories that my mentors share about their own cohorts that have lasted ten, twenty, thirty and even sixty years post-seminary.

The draw-back of these groups is that as young and inexperienced pastors, we rarely have the answer and look to more experienced, and more likely to have an answer, pastors. This spring, Union Presbyterian Seminary and Second Presbyterian Church (Roanoke, VA) in conjunction with NEXT Church and Macedonian Ministries, hosted the first ever “Trent@Montreat” event to help foster these relationships between younger and the more experienced pastors.

“The Kittye Susan Trent Symposium assists newly ordained pastors who show promise for one day leading larger congregations. The symposium assists the pastors in continuing to bridge the gap between seminary and congregation, exploring ways to put important theory into effective practice.”
-Second Presbyterian Church-

When registering for the event, participants were given the opportunity to chose one of several “tracks” which they would participate in for the duration of the gathering. Options included discussions surrounding pastoral care, preaching, mission, church conflict, staffing, and Christian Education among others. Each group was led by an experienced congregational leader who has experience and a passion for the topic. While groups met twice daily for roughly two hours each time, leaders also took time during “mini-notes” or preaching during worship to expound on their topic for all participants who may or may not be part of the smaller group. Time was also set aside purely for fellowship and even sharing funny, sometimes unbelievable stories of what participants have encountered in their first few years of ministry.

I have participated in a few gatherings over the last few years, designed to reach out to new ministers in hopes of addressing the retention rate that shows only 1 of 5 pastors staying in ministry beyond five years. Discussions and readings have been assigned, papers have been written, and I have watched young pastors tire out. I myself have left confused and anxious, wondering where I belonged in this mess– especially as a “validated” minister who does not serve any single congregation. I have been looked at as if I did not know “what it is really like” and left behind when day long discussions focused on the struggles of session meetings, something that I have not yet encountered and really do have nothing to add. This is not to say that these programs are bad, but they have not yet met my own needs as a young pastor.

I registered for Trent in hopes that I might find even just a portion of the week useful, figuring that would match everything else I have experienced. I signed up for “Leadership in Times of Conflict” led by Rev. Ernie Thompson, a pastor who has weathered the storm and is excited to help young pastors explore conflict before they find themselves caught in the thunder and rain. My hope was that this discussion would by guided by things I have seen in churches where I have visited, and be better prepared when I am called to a church at a later point. Our small group of four was made up of myself, a church administrator (with a seminary degree), a not-yet ordained youth pastor, and a solo pastor. After our introductions, I already knew that this was going to be a different experience and one where I felt like I belonged. Our open discussion about what we have seen, and what Ernie has seen, left me feeling more prepared and confident when it comes to addressing any future conflict in churches, but also conflict in my own personal life. What I had to say was welcomed and my experience (or lack-thereof) added to the discussion rather than taking away or blocking me out.

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Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni gather on Lookout Mountain following an afternoon hike during Trent@Montreat– (L to R) Jordan Davis (M. Div. 2014), Christopher Tweel (M. Div. 2014), Dan Commerford (M. Div. 2011), Jim Lunde (M. Div. 2011)

The opportunities provided for fellowship, and those that we created on our own, gave me an opportunity to sit back and relax with other young adults with a similar background but very different experience. We laughed until we cried, climbed mountains and relaxed, and even had the opportunity to spend informal time with conference leaders and hear more about their own ministry and the good, bad, and crazy things they have encountered.

Statistics say that new pastors rarely become one of these experienced pastors. Statistics show that the decline of membership in all denominations is not only stressing congregational leaders out, but it also leaves most seminary graduates in a position where they (we) have to find and/or create a ministry opportunity that is rarely addressed in conferences for “young pastors”. These conferences can regularly leave non-traditional leaders in a lonely and confusing place and feeling as if they (we) don’t “fit in” with ordained pastors serving congregations. “Trent@Montreat” offers a place for all congregational leaders who are seeking to both hear and share stories of ministry in different contexts while addressing a topic that each individual chooses to discuss, based on their own needs in ministry. Space is created so that every participant might feel like they belong and their call matters and makes a difference in the Church.

This was only the first time that this form of “The Trent Symposium” has taken place, but I heard comments throughout the week that we all hope this happens again… and soon. The friends we have made and the groups we have formed may or may not last for the decades modeled by our leaders, but they nourished and renewed us in that time and space in a way that will hopefully last for several weeks and months to come.

20160420_200936Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni gathered from all over the country
to both lead and attend Trent@Montreat!


Learn more about “The Trent Symposium” and “Trent@Montreat” as well as the sponsors of this inaugural event:
Montreat Conference Center
Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Leadership Institute
Second Presbyterian Church, Roanoke
NEXT Church
Macedonian Ministries

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

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