by Russ Matteson
Gathering together with a worship focus on the Beatitudes, the 54th annual Pacific Southwest District Conference brought together folk from 23 of our congregations for time in worship, study, business, and fellowship. Friday evening’s sermon was brought by author and public theologian Brian McLaren, who invited the district into an examination of the Beatitudes.
McLaren invited us to consider that what divides us today is not so much our differences, but rather the spirit in which we hold our differences with each other. He invited us to find in the Beatitudes a teaching from Jesus that shows us a new way of being with one another, that might give us a way of staying together.
McLaren shared as the opening preacher, and he provided the leadership for the pre-conference continuing education event that was attended by about 30 ministers and congregational leaders around the conference theme. On Thursday he shared the Fasnacht Lecture on Religion and Public Life at the University of La Verne, with a focus on what he has called the Great Spiritual Migration taking place in society. It was a partnership between the university and the district that brought McLaren to California for these events.
Business Saturday was once again conducted around tables, inviting delegates from across the district to meet and share with one another on items of faith and business. The opening Bible study was one that moderator Sara Haldeman-Scarr had used throughout the year in various settings. She invited participants to reflect on a favorite Jesus story of theirs, and then relate how Jesus was a witness in the story. In a second sharing, participants related how Jesus showed “withness” in the story. While participants shared, they wove together playdough ropes into tapestries that formed the centerpieces of their tables, recognizing in the stories of Jesus our connections with one another.
Many reports were shared as a part of the conference. Special focus was given to renewed efforts in developing new congregations. This included an introductory report from the Church Planting Task Group, and the welcoming of the new Los Banos project. The delegates also received encouragement to consider serving with Brethren Disaster Ministries through the district, and to have their congregations apply for district Ministry Partnership Funds and take a risk to reach out into their community with the love of Christ.
Insight sessions engaged the conference theme with a Bible study by Richard Zapata, presentations from the University of La Verne Interfaith Fellows, and sessions by an Islamic scholar on Muslim-Christian relationships and understanding. Other workshops focused on spiritual practices, congregational growth and leadership, congregational ethics, and board responsibilities.
A 2018 budget of $425,000 was approved. This represents a reduction by half of the overall spending from five years ago, as the district board looks to stabilize district finances and provide for longer term security for the district to work to support congregations. An expense maximum for 2019 also was approved.
Worship Saturday evening provided for a district love feast that included feetwashing, a simple meal, and communion. Many were touched by an interpretive dance shared by Elizabeth Piazza as we came into the feetwashing portion of the evening. Sunday morning worship included the consecration of leadership for the year ahead, reaffirming the licensed ministers in the district and recognizing ordination anniversaries. The Sunday offering of more than $5,000 benefits Puerto Rico District as a witness and “withness” in their response to the impact of Hurricane Maria.
-- Russ Matteson is district executive minister of Pacific Southwest District.