“Your true passion doesn’t go away because you’re not bubbly and happy. Your true passion is inward,” said the Rev. Sheryl-Marks Williams, recalling a key message from the recent Passionate Leadership Conference. “Why do you do this? It comes back to call, and it reinvigorates passion.
It was Marks-Williams’s second year in a row to attend the conference hosted by First United Methodist Church of Winter Park. Currently residing in Coral Springs while on family leave, she described the conference as “real,” adding, “I thought people needed this. We get weighed down every day. And we just put on our fake, happy smile.”
One of the key takeaways that tied into this dynamic came from Dr. Walter Brueggemann, the well-known church scholar who appeared on video (view it), who emphasized the importance of “working through lament.”
The Rev. Josh Bell, associate pastor at Heritage UMC in Clearwater, said his favorite comments came from Florida's Rev. Catherine Fluck-Price and the Rev. Rudy Rasmus, senior pastor of Houston's St. John's UMC. Fluck-Price spoke about her calling and how that sustains her in ministry, “and how revisiting her understanding of her calling is significant for her and reminds her that she is not in ministry on her own strength and her own initiative,” recalled Bell, a recent seminary graduate who had become acquainted with Fluck-Price as chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry but “saw her in a more personal role” at the conference.
Rasmus talked on a personal level about his own experience of ministry and the ups and downs he’s had in that process, Bell recalled. “It was nice to hear that someone who’s fairly high profile deals with a lot of day to day stuff, that his life experience impacts his ministry, and things going on in his ministry impact how he interacts with the church.”
The conference was once again organized and hosted by the Rev. Bob Bushong, senior pastor of First UMC, and the Rev. Jeremy Rebman, senior pastor at Deer Lake UMC in Tallahassee. About 225 individuals attended, and other guest speakers included Tennessee Area Bishop Dick Wills, a former Florida Conference pastor. The percentage of clergy and lay attendees was about a 50-50 split, Bushong and Rebman recalled.
“The theme was Resupply,” noted Rebman. “The basic idea was that we pour ourselves out in leadership and take the hits in leadership, and pay the cost to be out front. The idea was to be a place where people could come and have their tank filled back up, and pour passion for ministry back into each other. And also, to plant seeds and help people consider their need for keeping their tank full.”
The Brueggemann video set the stage by acknowledging a definition of passion that has to do with energy and inspiration, Rebman continued. “He said we often forget about this other aspect of passion, as in the passion of Christ. We tend not to think about going through that kind of passion to find the other side—and how when we go through that brokenness and hurt and bring it before God and one another, we discover a new place of passion. That was a neat thing I wasn’t even expecting.”
Added Bushong, “One of the things I felt really positive about was remembering that I’d felt the same thing when I did it last year—the positive energy that was in the room as people gathered, as they saw someone they knew. There was laughter. I just felt that the sense of community was present was perhaps as important as anything else that happened.
“I think we lack that at times. We’re so busy doing our own thing, separated by distance. It was powerful just listening to what was going on, during structured discussion time, worship, singing.”
The duo said they feel led to organize a third conference next year, and Bushong also plans to continue his efforts to have pastors in his district gather together for a time of sharing and prayer on a regular basis.
“There’s a certain authenticity to this because it’s a grass roots deal. This really bubbled up. We’re not doing this to make money or because we hold a position. We just really feel led by God to minister to each other,” Rebman shared. Bushong said he wanted to underscore that their perspectives on the Passionate Leadership Conference “are not intended to be disparaging or negative of anything put on by an organized Annual Conference group. It’s different.”
Rebman agreed that the conference helps foster new conversations and engagement among attendees, in part by defusing “not only some of the loneliness, but that spirit of competition that can be generated between churches and pastors. We came together to something that was by us and for us, acknowledging our desire for God and being a part of his ministry. We’re not just brothers and sisters in Christ, but we’re part of the same movement of the Spirit…this was really born out of a desire of a few pastors who got together, to see renewal and revival in the church.”
Observed attendee Bell, “The goal of the conference was to stir us up and remind us why we are called to ministry. It was very incarnational in terms of them (the guest speakers) talking about what ministry was to them, and how God sustains them in ministry.”
News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer, editor, coach and speaker based in Franklin, Tenn.