Weeklong Synod School puts successful 65th year into the books
January 17, 2019
Marking its 65th year, this year’s iteration of Synod School, the midsummer ministry of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, drew more than 600 for a week of worship, classes, fun and fellowship on the campus of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa.
Synod School 2018 featured more than 70 classes, convocation addresses by the Rev. Dr. Jason Brian Santos, worship services led by the Rev. Dr. Jana Childers, and the music leadership of Hans Peterson and Nelson Morlock.
While participation in Synod School is usually measured by the number of participants from a presbytery, this year a single church contributed 29 attendees. “There were 29 of us, counting me,” noted Lance Loveall, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Loveall said the group included “four kids, 10 youth and 15 adults.” Loveall said he and his wife, Paige, “have been talking about Synod School since we started coming seven years ago.
“In the meantime, the grandparents that came spread the word of how awesome Synod School is and recruited people of that generation as well,” Loveall noted. This year’s group included 16 first-timers.
“To the person, everyone reported having a good time,” Loveall said. “Whether it was a class or classes, the worship, or [Santos], or a combination thereof, they all reported having fun, learning, being inspired, having thoughts about our congregation, and having wonderful conversations about spiritual development and the church.”
Through five convocation addresses, Santos, who is the mission coordinator for Christian formation at the Presbyterian Mission Agency in Louisville, explored what it means to be an intergenerational “Sabbath people.”
Addressing the way the church connects with youth, Santos asked, “Are we entertaining our youth or engaging them in Christian practice?” And commenting on church as entertainment, and children’s time and youth activities, Santos said, “If that’s all we have, we have failed.”
Santos said, “We have to put action into our words.” The connection with youth is gained through community, shared time and experiences together. “We often think our memories are our own,” Santos said, but added, “All of our memories are connected to our communal environment.”
That’s true, too, for the community of the church. “At the end of the day, sometimes we put too much emphasis on the sermon. … Is it so cerebral that we’ve lost the art of connecting?” Santos asked. “We no longer live in a pastoral model of the church.”
The 70-plus classes ranged from “Spiritual Formation” to “Yoga: Vacation Style,” and “Immigration: Economics, Ethics & Ethnics” to “The Coming of the Internet & the Loss of Everything Else.”
Childers, dean of the seminary and vice president for academic affairs at San Francisco Theological Seminary, led evening worship Sunday through Thursday. A Presbyterian minister, Childers is a popular conference speaker, preaching often in national and international settings.
Dance also played a role in worship as Gina Penn, who discovered at age 13 she could dance as a form of worship, served as the school’s artist in residence and led dancers during evening worship.
Plans are already in the works for Synod School 2019 — tentatively set for July 21–26 at the same location.
Next year’s convocation speaker has already been chosen — Deidre “Dede” Johnston, professor of communication at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, who conducts research in global communication and cross-cultural happiness. Johnston also led the development of a new peace and justice studies minor at the college and was involved in curriculum development for women’s studies and American ethnic studies.
Shawna Bowman, associate director of field education and experiential education at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, will lead next year’s evening worship. Bowman is also an artist and pastor at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago and co-founder of Creation Lab, an art collective.
And there are others making plans for next year’s Synod School. Loveall noted that people in his congregation are already thinking about it. “People are already talking about next year. … Some people are already motivated to attend for the first time and many people are ready to go back.”
Duane Sweep, Director of Communications, Synod of Lakes and Prairies, PC(USA)
Today’s Focus: Lakes and Prairies Synod School
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord God, remind us that the tables we gather around are not ours but yours. Give us your eyes to see until all are shoulder to shoulder, worshiping and serving to your glory. Amen.