E-pistle April 17

The Year in a Word

Early Monday morning I will be leaving Langhorne for a week of study leave at the West Coast Presbyterian Pastors Conference.  I have been to this conference before.  Probably a previous twenty times.  The conference began as an annual event in the early 1970’s and was called the Young Presbyterian Pastors Conference. It’s always held eight days after Easter at the same conference center in the redwoods of coastal California not far from the north end of Monterey Bay. I began to attend in the late 70’s when I was a west coast Presbyterian youth director and have been attending more on than off ever since.  Over time the “young” was dropped from the name of the conference and the sense of relationship and accountability among the growing-older pastors grew. 

I will see a lot of friends, including the best man at our wedding and colleagues from ministry in California and Oregon and a seminary classmate or two.  Plus some friends I know only from the conference and whose wisdom and integrity I have come to value and respect.  In fact, speakers come and go, some good and some not so good, but the conference is always good for the ways God works in relationships, if for no other reason.  But this year looks like a good speaker year.
Because I have been to the WCPPC so often, I know how certain things will go and one thing that never changes is the Monday night log-in session.  We’ll be in smaller groups, maybe 20 or 30 people – they used to do it with the whole group when the whole group wasn’t so large – and be asked to share one word to describe the year since the conference last met eight days after last Easter. Some of the words are funny and some are clever; others are poignant or sad.  Some are spoken to great laughter and others through thick tears.  Some words are just ho-hum because some years are just ho-hum. After you say your word, you’re given a maximum 120 seconds to explain your choice. Saying anything in two minutes is difficult for some pastors. 
I’ve been thinking what my word might be for the past several weeks, but haven’t yet made my choice.  I know it’s going to be a word about God’s grace which has overflowed in a thousand ways since eight days after last Easter.
I last attended the WCPPC in 2007 and it was while I was there that I took my first phone call from Langhorne.  Marilyn Franzi called on behalf of the Pastor Nominating Committee saying they’d seen my PIF, Personal Information Form, and wondered if we could talk.  I said yes.  I didn’t go the conference last year; the phone call with the PNC had gone well and I was too new on the job to be flitting off to California.  Besides, we had a house in Beaver that we hoped would sell. 
Easter was early last year, March 23, so the conference began on March 31, the day the house in Beaver sold. Since then, we’ve moved into a new house in Langhorne, a house we love.  Becky and I have been to Italy and Brazil and I’ve been to Guatemala for an amazing week of mission.  There have been worship services and session meetings, Bible studies and worldview forums, weddings and funerals, baptisms and communions, retreats and ordinations.  But I doubt if my word will be about all of those things.  I have a hunch that it is going to be about the grace of friendship.  On March 31, 2008, I’d been pastor at LPC for exactly two months; long enough to learn some of your names, too soon to call you friends.  Amazing, the grace of friendship.  A year is long enough to move from trying to remember your names to calling you friends.
Thanks for helping me find my word …I’ll have it chosen by Monday night log-in time.
By the way, if you were logging-in at the conference, what would your word be? I’d love to know!