by Ken Burkholder, Conference Moderator (Deep Run East)
“Shalom in the Streets: Recapturing God’s Vision in Ordinary Places” was the theme for the annual School for Leadership Training (SLT) at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, January 13-15, 2020. I attend SLT every year (I think this is my 17th year), primarily to connect with former seminary colleagues, faculty, and other church leaders across the denomination. For me, these connections are so attractive that if the theme and speakers are good, it’s a bonus!
This year’s theme was meaningful, inspirational, and relevant to church ministry. As the planning committee noted, “The key to thriving in ministry resides not in new answers to large-scale challenges but by truly embracing the very people found in the places where we live and work.” The theme verse was Jeremiah 29:7 – Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
These final words challenged me to think in a new way. I reflected on how, when the people and community where I minister flourish, I also usually flourish personally, and our congregational life flourishes too. While this could potentially feel overwhelming, one of the keynote speakers reminded us, “Making the world better for one person… makes the world better.”
One particular highlight for me at SLT was hearing Shannan Martin’s key-note presentation. Shannan shared her personal journey about her family (including husband and four children) sensing God’s call to move from the comfortable suburbs into downtown Goshen, Indiana. I was inspired by her stories of how they have intentionally embraced their community by building authentic relationships with many of their neighbors. In fact, one of Shannan’s family’s rules is that they’re not allowed to invite anyone to their church until they’ve first hosted that person/family in their home.
Another significant highlight for me was the 20th anniversary celebration dinner and program for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at EMS. CPE was one of the most valuable and formative experiences for me during seminary. Several areas of focus in CPE, such as insights toward greater self-awareness in how I function as a person and leader, family-of-origin work, family systems theory, and field experience of serving in hospital and retirement community ministry (including several crisis situations) provided me with invaluable preparation for pastoral ministry and ongoing personal growth. It was a joy being part of the celebration to honor Kenton Derstine, as he is now retiring. Kenton is originally from Franconia Conference, having attended Souderton Mennonite as a child and youth, and has served as the CPE supervisor at EMS for the past twenty years.