Preacher asks ARMSS/POAMN gathering ‘Are you ready to dream?’

Tom Tickner opens annual conference calling on participants to use their holy imagination

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
James Reese speaks at the POAMN/ARMSS conference. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

James Reese speaks at the POAMN/ARMSS conference. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

RICHMOND, Va. – A lively spirit filled the gathering space as the leadership of the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network (POAMN) and the Association of Retired Ministers, Their Spouses or Survivors (ARMSS) celebrated their 20th year of co-sponsoring a national conference for persons engaged in ministry with older adults.

The 2016 conference, themed Christian Discipleship: People of the Spirit, People of Hope, is being held here, October 11- 14, at the Four Points by Sheraton.

As the 140 attendees prepared themselves for the conference’s opening remarks and service of worship—and for the week’s many offerings yet before them—the Rev. Linda Dickerson smiled.

“I’ve been at my church for 17 years,” said Dickerson, pastor of Northside Presbyterian Church in Blacksburg, Virginia, which counts many retired professors, corporate executives and teachers among its members. “And the funny thing is that in 17 years, we’ve all gotten older. Churches always say that they want to have families with young children, but who we are is mostly older adults. This would be a great opportunity to have a ministry with people in our church that’s vibrant. I think that’s where we need to put our energy.”

As if affirming Dickerson’s assessment, the Rev. Dr. James Reese, ARMSS strategic planning committee chair, reminded conference-goers that “no other denomination has an organization for its retired ministers, spouses, and survivors.”

“When you leave [this conference],” said Reese, “it is our fondest hope that you will be greater in knowledge, greater in friendship, and that all that you do beginning today for the rest of your life will be to the glory of God.”

Following Reese, Michele Hendrix, POAMN’s president, expressed gratitude for the leadership of both organizations—as well as for the Presbytery of the James, represented at the podium by the Rev. Carson Rhyne Jr., and the Presbyterian Mission Agency, represented by the Rev. Ray Jones—for “the amazing teamwork that has happened here.” POAMN is in covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Mission Agency through its Theology, Formation, and Evangelism ministry area.

“POAMN is 34 years in age,” Hendrix said. “We are really honored to celebrate 20 years with ARMSS.”

Conference participants parade into the gathering with a colorful procession of banners. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

Conference participants parade into the gathering with a colorful procession of banners. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

Those shared 20 years came to vivid life as representatives of both organizations processed with banners during the worship service’s opening hymn. The banners, made by Donna Haines of ARMSS, who also served as liturgist for the service, featured the themes of all 20 conventions.

Haines was joined in worship leadership by the Rev. Tom Tickner, minister of spiritual life at Grace Presbyterian Village in Dallas, Texas, preacher; David McCollum and Annie Tarbutton, musicians; and Betsy McElmurray, accompanist.

In his sermon entitled “Holy Imagination,” based on Isaiah 43:18-25 and Luke 5:17-26—Jesus’ healing of a paralytic—Tickner told of a congregation he had served where the children of the church regularly handed him creative, outside-of-the-lines drawings.

“Children have such wonderful imaginations,” said Tickner. “Do we still live with imagination, and not just any imagination, but holy imagination?”

Tickner then asked worshipers to dispense with asking their customary questions when attempting to understand the healing story in Luke, but to instead apply their imagination.

As he outlined the extraordinary lengths that the paralytic man’s friends went to in order to get him into the presence of Jesus—ultimately lowering him through a roof—Tickner said, “They had imagination to want more for this man; they had the imagination of faith and of being faithful.”

“Change the picture and you are the one being brought before Jesus,” Tickner challenged his hearers. “You are the one who is paralyzed in some way—maybe a health issue, maybe you’re in the middle of a family issue, maybe recent grief has brought paralysis to you. Whatever the situation, it is making us stuck. Imagination is crowded out by facts. Hope is smothered by seeing no possibility of change, and we remain on our mat, paralyzed, resigned.”

In drawing a parallel to the Old Testament text, Tickner said that Isaiah encountered a similar situation “with the crippling thinking of Israel,” where there was no hope and their imagination was gone. “But Isaiah had a word for them, salvation is at hand—for the children of Israel, for the paralytic, for us,” he said. “Thank God for holy imagination, imagination where the kingdom of God breaks in when it’s least expected.”

Tickner said that even when people close themselves off, Jesus sees them and perceives their needs, inviting them to dream and to live with imagination.

That, he said, is just what the founder of ARMSS, the Rev. John Rhea—who died in 2003—did when he dreamed of an association for retired ministers. Rhea went to see the Rev. S. Miriam Dunson, former associate for Older Adult Ministries for the PC(USA), and asked what he could do. “He carried his dream on a mat and laid it at the feet of Jesus,” said Tickner. “ARMSS got up and walked.”

Just like those who began ARMSS, Tickner said Jesus calls people to see their lives in a new way.

“Can you bring what is paralyzing you,” he asked. “Can you bring a childlike imagination?

Do you hear Jesus? Get up off that stretcher. Go to your home. You’re called with holy imagination to be amazed—ready to sing a new song to the Lord.”

As the conference continues through Friday, Oct. 14, participants will have opportunities to engage in fellowship, networking, sharing resources, interactive and participatory workshops, creative worship, recreation, mission tours, entertainment, and morning addresses by keynote speaker, the Rev. Dr. John Carroll, professor of New Testament and Director of the Program for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond.

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For information on the 7th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality, to be held June 4-7, 2017, at Concordia University, Chicago, Illinois—at which POAMN will be supporting and co-sponsoring the congregational track featuring the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner and the Rev. Dr. John Buchanan—visit the conference website.


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