Good News! Great Joy!

As a deprecating remark aimed at those who puff themselves up, we make light of the term “God’s gift to the world”. Heaven help those who use it on themselves.

In truth, God’s gift refers to His Son. And it’s the historic reason for Christmas gift giving, modeled on the Magi who presented gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

“It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” we’re told in Acts 20:35, which is why we give to charities and causes. It’s why we cut cheques to the church – a significant proportion of which arrive in December.

And then, there are the gifts which take your breath away.

More than a year ago, I heard rumours of a group of Presbyterians who were planning to organize and finance a pastor’s conference. “Seriously?” I asked. No lie.

I didn’t think much more about it until earlier this year at our Thriving in Babylon event, when the host congregation, Vaughan Community Church, handed out advance notice of a “Tri-Annual PCC Pastors’ Conference” to take place early in 2019 in a tropical setting. VCC would cover the cost of hotel accommodation, meals, meeting areas, and speakers. The program would be organized by the Principals of our three theological colleges. Participants would pay a mere $100 and the cost of airfare. The total cost to the congregation would easily be six figures. In a word, wow!

It’s the vision of VCC’s senior minister, Rev. Peter Han, that the PCC would experience increased fellowship, encouragement, learning, and unity among its ministers.

In the words of the program organizers, “This conference is for ministers currently serving in congregations and chaplaincies who would like to unpack the busyness of their lives and create space for the work of the Spirit of God to renew, refresh, and reinvigorate us for the mission of God in the world. It is a time to step back, look at the larger picture, and refocus our energy on the future that God has promised and is now creating.”

There is to be worship, biblically based teaching, presentations on leadership, mission, preaching, and soul care – along with some free time.

In October, details were announced on the website Registration would begin Nov. 1. Maximum 150 places.

Good news! Great joy!

I debated whether to stay up to midnight the night before to ensure that I had one of the precious spots. I had a sense that demand would exceed supply. But I opted to do it first thing the next day.

But it wasn’t an instant sellout.

The good news for those who have not signed up is that, as of this week, organizers tell me that there are still 35 spots. Despite promotion through official PCC channels, not all ministers have heard about it, as I discovered this week. The original deadline has been extended until the end of January.

So, come one, come all to the first event of its kind – an opportunity to literally retreat and focus.

Why didn’t this sell out within hours?

Whether it’s the congregation or a conference, it’s increasingly difficult to get people to come out. Our culture is increasingly inwardly-focused: shopping, meeting, sharing, and research can all be done online. While this clearly has benefits, the downside threatens real community. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace face to face interaction.

More important is the potential for a renewed sense of unity in the PCC. That call for community in submission to the Spirit is at the core of the organizers’ vision, to “renew, refresh, and reinvigorate us for the mission of God in the world.” With the Western ideal of liberal democracy crumbling all around us and the lack of a Christian foundation in most peoples’ lives these days, can anything be more important than this?

So this is my prayer: May those who attend this event represent enough of the diversity in our denomination that what may emerge will be true renewal, led by the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. May we be equipped and positioned to allow a greater posture of submission to God’s holy hands, which can do more than we can imagine.

Good news! great joy indeed!

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