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Annual Disciple-Making Church Conference opens with call to let go

‘Abide in Me’ participants prepare to embrace new disciplines toward greater spiritual health

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service

Jeff Eddings presents to the conference. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. – Travelers, not unexpectedly, arrive with baggage.

And as pastors and church leaders regularly navigate the daily landscape of life and ministry under tremendous pressure and stress, they may find themselves carrying more than their usual share to the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s annual Disciple-Making Church Conference on January 16.

“We all come to this place with baggage—our spiritual, mental, and emotional baggage—that a lot of us brought into this room with us tonight,” said the Rev. Jeff Eddings, co-founder of the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, Pittsburgh, in opening the gathering.

The 2017 conference, entitled Abide in Me… A Spiritual Purging, based on John 15:4, is designed to introduce participants to a variety of spiritual practices to help them to live fuller mental and spiritual lives in order to bear more fruit for Jesus Christ and Christ’s church.

“We’re fond of living in regret or guilt of the past, in fear of the future, or anxious in the moment that is right now,” continued Eddings. “We have an opportunity—this is a gift—to step outside of our regular routines and be here in communion with each other. I want to invite you to that, to surrender, let go of whatever worries you have, whatever anxiety you’re feeling right now in this moment, and surrender ourselves right now to be embraced by God.”

Ayana and Aaron Teter lead music during opening worship. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

Eddings, the conference’s keynote speaker, is joined in leadership January 16–19 by the Rev. Sharon Stewart, part-time pastor at the Homestead (Pa.) United Presbyterian Church and part-time pastoral associate for Southminster Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Ray Jones, associate director of Evangelism, Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA); and the Rev. Steve Ebling, pastor, New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fishers, Indiana. The Revs. Aaron and Ayana Teter, who serve respectively as pastor of the United Presbyterian Church, Ingram, Pennsylvania, and associate minister of Pittsburgh Presbytery, are the conference’s music leaders.

As evening worship began, some 50 conference participants gathered around tables were invited to share in small groups their “consolations and desolations,” a concept from Ignatian spirituality, which roughly correlates to joys and concerns.

“I am thankful to come here for a break, but also have it be a formative time,” said Jane Larson, a third-year student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In addition to her workload as a full-time seminarian, Larson is also part of a church plant. The Disciple-Making Church Conference is running concurrently here with the 2017 coaching training for the PMA’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative, a churchwide movement launched by the 220th General Assembly (2012) to begin 1,001 worshiping communities over the next 10 years.

Conference attendees share in small groups. The Rev. Moongil Cho, the PMA’s associate for Korean Intercultural Congregational Support and a member of the conference planning team, is at right. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

Prior to the evening’s sermon based on Mark 10:42-46—an interactive exercise led by Stewart and Ebling—Eddings paused in prayer to honor the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and “all that this day is meant to be and to remind us of.”

“As we come to the inauguration this Friday, the nation is a place of uncertainty,” Eddings said. “The recent exchange between President-elect Trump and Congressman John Lewis has highlighted this uncertainty, especially for those who wonder whether America is still a safe and welcoming place for them. It’s our job as a church—no matter what our position may be—to rise up and say, ‘Yes, we are a safe and a welcoming place for you. We will continue to work on your behalf for justice.’”

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