Like several of the other first-time attendees I was not entirely sure what to expect from my first Gathering. Would I find it worth the time? This was my biggest unanswered question. I knew from the attendee roster that there would be people I’d gone to seminary with and people whose names I’d read or heard about in the wider church. I was intrigued by the topic of unity and division, there certainly could be lots to talk about and discuss…but would it be worth the time, worth the expense?
Yes and yes.
When you ask parishioners why they love their church you almost always hear, “because the people are what make this place special” (or words to that extent). Gathering of Leaders is very much the same. I came away from my time in Jackson with a new group of colleagues from all over the country. I learned about how my colleagues handle dis-unity and how we rejoice in the ways the church can unify people as only the church can. I learned about how my colleagues are uniting people amidst the hardest times and in the face of the greatest challenges in their ministry. Hearing their stories was inspiring and helpful—I am not struggling with certain issues alone and I now have an additional community from which I can draw upon their experiences, both their successes and failures.
The peer-led learning sessions also were top notch. Not only were they informative, but were all things that got my mind wondering, “Could WE do that? Wait…HOW can we do that? Man, how can we NOT do that?!” I’ve come home with three new and actionable ideas that have potential to be deeply beneficial for our congregation’s growth and development.
Finally, I would say that there was a very good balance between time in sessions working, learning, digesting new information, and time to rest, socialize, and reflect. Other conferences I’ve attended over the years have been too much of one or the other. Gathering of Leaders has hit the sweet spot, providing exactly what I needed.
The Rev. Matthew Hanisian
Severna Park, MD
Rector, St. Martin’s-in-the-Field