National Response Team Annual Meeting

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

Colossians 3:12-17 NRSVUE

Each April, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team (PDA NRT) gathers for continuing education, worship, and fellowship for the NRT Annual Meeting. This text from Colossians 3, guided us throughout the meeting and through our conference theme: Compassionate God, Compassionate Community, Compassionate Service.

Mo Ranch President and CEO, Tim Hutchinson, bringing words of welcome and reading a land acknowledgement to the NRT during our opening plenary session. (Photo by Nell Herring)

Gathered at Mo Ranch Camp and Conference Center in Hunt, TX, the team spent three days soaking in the wisdom of plenary speakers, connecting with one another, preparing for compassionate service, and worshipping the One who has called us all into this shared work of ministry. Throughout our time together, PDA Staff, NRT, and guests contemplated the different facets of compassion and how they guide everything we do in the ministry of disaster recovery.

The team read a book together, “Practicing Compassion” by Dr. Frank Rogers Jr. in preparation for the annual meeting. Dr. Roger’s writing invited us to deeper thinking when it comes to compassion for others and compassion for ourselves. Frank joined us on Tuesday afternoon via zoom for a lecture on the book. The NRT met for small group discussions throughout the meeting to expand on Dr. Rogers’ book and debrief plenary lectures.

The “Out of Chaos Chorus/PDA Choir” leading “God Be the Love to Search and Keep Me” (our meeting hymn) during the opening worship service. Kathy Broyard served as the conductor and Rev. Suzanne Malloy accompanied the choir on the piano. (Photo by Michelle Muñiz)

Worship, devotions, and vespers, were all led by members of the PDA National Response Team and PDA Staff. Showcasing the leadership gifts of team members in worship is always a meeting highlight for the NRT.

Rev. Jim Kirk delivering the “State of PDA” address to the NRT providing updates about the work of PDA in 2023 and looking ahead to what 2024 has in store. (Photo by Nell Herring)

Tuesday evening vespers and hymn sing around the campfire. (Photo by Nell Herring)

During the Annual Meeting, PDA welcomed several speakers to lead our plenary sessions. Wednesday morning, we welcomed Kymberlaine Banks to help us develop sensitivity to microaggressions, understanding of their implications, and how we can more compassionately engage with one another.

Kymberlaine Banks teaching “Connecting Compassionately: How Eliminating Microaggressions Blesses Everyone” on Wednesday morning. (Photo by: Michelle Muñiz)

On Wednesday afternoon, we were joined by leaders from Mission Presbytery who guided us in a time of reflection on our shared ministry. Rev. Ginni Norris Lane shared her experiences with gun violence in her community while serving at FPC Uvalde. Liz and Andy Anzaldua shared about their experiences with PDA recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. Lena Baxter, Dave Dickerson, and Ben Henderson also joined the panel to help us reflect on hurricane recovery and work with migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border. Facilitated by Rev. Sallie Watson, this panel challenged the team to think about the impact of initial deployments and how we can be even more equipped for future work together.

Rev. Sallie Watson (Executive Presbyter of Mission Presbytery) facilitating a panel of Mission Presbytery partners discussing PDA responses to migration, gun violence, and Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Nell Herring)

Later, we put Dr. Rogers’s invitation to self-compassion into practice through an afternoon of self-care. This gave the team time to enjoy the ranch, digest conference learnings, rest, and practice self-compassion.

Forrest Palmer (NRT) posing with Shiraz, the therapy dog from Mission Presbytery during the Self-Compassion Afternoon. (Photo by Forrest Palmer).

Richard Underdahl-Pierce (NRT) and Cheryl Pennington (NRT) enjoying the Guadalupe River during the Self-Compassion Afternoon. (Photo by Alan Baroody)

On Thursday morning, PDA Director, Rev. Edwin González-Castillo and Michelle Muñiz (PDA Staff), led the team through PDA’s Decolonizing Volunteerism workshop. This course has been taught in presbyteries and at several Presbyterian conferences. The NRT had the opportunity to engage in practices, group discussion, and a lecture about how the history of colonialism impacts the work we engage in while volunteering.

Rev. Edwin González-Castillo and Michelle Muñiz teaching “Decolonizing Volunteerism” during their Thursday morning plenary lecture. (Photo by Nell Herring)

The conference ended with a Spirit-filled service led by Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, PDA Staff, NRT, and the director for the Synod of the Sun Partnership for Disaster Recovery. Laurie preached on the concept of decentering through the lens of Acts 8:26-40. Together, the team celebrated the Lord’s Supper and participated in a commissioning liturgy as they prepared to serve on the NRT for another year.

Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus preaching on how the Ethiopian eunuch’s interaction with Philip can guide the ministry of the PDA NRT. (Photo by Nell Herring)

Cheryl Pennington (NRT) signing during communion liturgy at closing worship. (Photo by Nell Herring)

Rev. Edwin González-Castillo (PDA Director) and Rev. Bill Neely (NRT) serving communion to Rev. Jeanie Shaw (NRT) at closing worship. (Photo by Nell Herring)

The NRT had another Spirit-filled annual meeting, and we couldn’t be more grateful. From thought-provoking plenary lectures, meaningful small group discussions to Spirit-filled worship and beloved fellowship opportunities, this year’s annual meeting was a major success! We even had 5 NRT and 1 staff member make it down the big slide!

Thank you Mo Ranch for your generous hospitality and thank you to the 2024 Planning Team for integrating our compassion theme into every aspect of the annual meeting.

Meeting participants gathered at Chapel on the Hill for the closing worship service. (Photo by: Michelle Muñiz)

Please continue to pray for the ministry of the NRT as they put their newfound compassion skills into practice in their ministry of disaster response. 

As we bring this meeting to a close, planning is already underway for next year’s meeting in Washington D.C. to learn about the intersections of justice and disaster recovery.


-Rev. Nell Herring

   Associate for Volunteer Ministries

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