What A Week!
I am sorry Indianapolis, but you are not exciting. You lack the mountains of Denver, the glitz of Los Angeles, or the energy of New York. Your people are sweet and kind, like Canadians. But you are a white bread city. Last week however, on the campus of Christian Theological Seminary, you were not a tame city at all.
The 2016 OPEN Conference convened in Indianapolis from October 5-7. Over 75 presenters led workshops in seven different tracks. From San Diego to Boston, hundreds came to imagine a vibrant future for progressive evangelicals. We heard messages from Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren and a host of other leaders committed to doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.
I was busy. I moderated, led, or co-led six workshops. I also did a church planting assessment, preparing a new generation of progressive evangelical leaders. In one workshop Jonathan and I told the difficult story of my transition and how it has affected our family. You can watch the video by going to the OPEN Network or Paula Stone Williams on Facebook. (I’d put a link here, but I am a Baby Boomer. Our technical skills have their limits. And while I am at it, how young do you have to be to understand Snapchat?)
The conference felt like taking off into a fast paced airborn trajectory, building a plane while it is flying. Challenged by men and women who are brilliant yet humble, I came away with greater knowledge and deeper wisdom. Stan Mitchell, from Gracepointe Church in Nashville, talked about hermeneutics in a way that resonated with evangelicals and mainliners. The words of seven women, who spoke of their challenges in ministry, left the audience breathless. Evenings were spent with the leaders from Highlands as we reflected, debated, and applied new insights to our own growing church.
When I got on the plane Saturday I was exhausted, but in the best possible way. Back in Denver I finished the sermon I was to preach on Sunday morning at Highlands Church. We are in a series called, Imagine a Better Way. After the week I’d had, that better way was easy to imagine. When the second service ended it was all I could do to contain my joy. From horizon to horizon, the goodness of God was abundant.
I am amazed all of this has come to fruition just a few short years after losing pretty much everything but my family and a few friends. Cathy wrote a note the other day that said, “You are finally really saying what you believe. You are expressing eloquently what is in your heart and what needs to be said. And guess what? No one is dying!”
She is right. I am free of the encumbrances of leading a multi-million dollar ministry that required me to have guarded public opinions. I am free of the fear of fundamentalism and the judgment embedded within it. I now live in a world that loves Jesus but encourages intellectual pursuit, a world unafraid of mystery. I am in the right body, serving in a church I love, involved in a movement bringing much needed change. Life is good.
My previous years in ministry were wonderful and rewarding, filled with friendships I will always treasure. But that world chose not to engage with Paula. With sadness I left them behind. Yet in letting go, I found new life, with abundant hope. I still face challenges aplenty, and suffering is an ongoing companion, but I do not travel alone. I journey in the company of fellow travelers with whom I am willing to trust my life, as together we lean into the future, committed to the ministry of reconciliation.
And so it goes.