Last week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, 350 people - pastoral families and church leaders - came together at The Ramsey Hotel & Conference Center for The Heartland Gathering. This event was a partnership between the Crossroads, Greater Ohio, Indiana South, and Kentucky-Tennessee Districts of The Wesleyan Church. The retreat was designed to create space for our pastoral families to have fun, develop new friendships, and flourish.
The conference kicked off on Tuesday evening with a dessert reception, followed by the first session with Harris III. Through entertaining illusions and powerful storytelling, Harris III reminded us that real magic happens when we bring our God-given uniqueness as individuals together with the broader team to see God’s purposes fulfilled in our churches and in our region.
A unique feature of this conference is that it was designed for pastors, spouses, and their kids. The conference planning team invited Matt Hogg and ReMix Education to host a kids’ track where kids would be able to have fun, connect with each other, and be encouraged and challenged to grow in their faith. The kid’s track launched on Wednesday morning with Matt and “Jiggy” providing high energy sessions with games, stories, lessons, and small group interactions for the kids. Students from Southern Wesleyan University gave up their spring break to serve at the conference, and many of them provided ministry investment in the kid’s track.
Dr. Wayne Schmidt, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church, started the day off for the adults on Wednesday morning by opening up his prayer journal and revealing some of the ways he structures his personal and missional praying. His challenge to guard ourselves against using God-given discernment as fuel for criticism and instead to use discernment for more focused intercession was a powerful moment for everyone in attendance. He also encouraged us with stories of movement that are happening across The Wesleyan Church and called us to seek God’s favor and anointing in intercession.
Following the morning session on Wednesday, pastors and their families were given free time to enjoy Pigeon Forge and the Smoky Mountains. To assist with this, on their way out of the session each adult was given $20 cash and each child was given $10 cash to spend during the free time. Families went hiking in the mountains, rode the skylift, braved the sky bridge, and rode mountain coasters.
The Wednesday evening session included a powerful time of worship led by Jordan Rife and her team. The worship continued as Heather Semple from 12Stone Church talked to the conference about the seasons of the soul. She helped us understand that seasons are part of the natural way of things, and the only way to grow through each season is to yield to whatever season God has you in at the moment.
Thursday morning closed out the conference with Albert Tate speaking to us from Luke 7 about Jesus’ ministry at the funeral of the widow’s son. In particular, he reminded us that God sees each of us in the ministry context where we serve, he knows what we are facing, and he is able to bring life into situations where death currently reigns. The conference concluded with a call for us to believe again in a resurrecting God who is “waymaker, miracle worker, promise keeper, and light in the darkness” always working to expand his kingdom and change the world.
We are thankful for the worship band, conference speakers, sponsors, volunteers, district superintendents, and planning team who made this event possible. More importantly, we are praising God for revealing himself to us during this retreat. His presence was palpable and pastors and their families were encouraged and strengthened faithful and fruitful service in the context where he has placed them.
We find ourselves in a time filled with uncertainty and fear due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) challenge. We are tracking the news surrounding this ever-changing situation. We are taking the challenges presented by this virus seriously.
That said, we want to remind you of the words of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…”
This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate his peace and compassion to our world that is currently filled with anxiety and fear. We are praying for God to use this situation and your church to draw people back to himself.
You may be wondering…
1. How do we stay informed on this issue?
2. Should we meet face-to-face on Sunday?
3. How can our people still gather if we don’t meet face-to-face?
4. How do people keep giving?
5. What other resources are available to help me lead my church during this time?
Finally, please know that our district team stands ready to assist you during this time. If you have questions, need help processing the next steps, or require assistance to access resources, please contact one of us directly.
Praying for you!
Your District Team