The Rev. Jen Fulton offers this essay on her experience at the 2023 Kanuga Clergy Gathering:
A wise woman once said to me, “I love Jesus, but I don’t always care for His fan club.” It is probably not very priestly to admit this, but I completely empathize with this sentiment. I don’t care for how much we talk about about the Church as a dying institution. I don’t care for our focus on numbers—on ASA, budget, and the like. I don’t care for the ecclesial ladder, and the value judgments we tend to make of ordained people based on how high they have climbed. I don’t care for the ways we measure success. I don’t care for how territorial and defensive priests can be. On my worst days, I don’t care for Jesus’ fan club at all.
My experience of Gathering of Leaders is completely different. This is a portion of the fan club that I love and cherish. My latest Gathering at Kanuga cemented that for me.
It began with the theme: “The Missional Church after Christendom.” This theme did not assume that eventually there wouldn’t be a post-Christendom Church. We did not discuss how to keep from dying. We discussed mission. We discussed ministry. We discussed Jesus.
Everything that we did flowed from that theme. The Presiding Bishop talked about how we often live Good Friday and Easter—death and resurrection—at the same time. Resident Theologian Jason Fout talked about how we can be led astray by trying to be relevant and plausible, and also by turning inward and away from the world. We don’t need more information, he said; we need more imagination. What would the Church be if we gave away our best, if we looked forward to a day beyond walls? We discussed college students and young people, evangelism, social investment, spiritual formation, Scripture, and the centrality and necessity of Jesus. We learned about the similarities between contemplative prayer and an outward-focused life of ministry. We prayed together. We broke bread together. We sang together. It was glorious.
What was most glorious, though, was the fact that while I walked away inspired, fed, connected, and supported, I also walked away from Kanuga with concrete plans for my parish. So often when we gather together as clergy, inspiration and practicality do not go hand in hand. That was not the case here. Having returned home from this Gathering, I have an actual plan for my parish’s newly-formed evangelism team. I have an actual plan for ramping up communication and involvement in my parish context. I have an actual plan for remodeling our church bathrooms. Couple that with being inspired, fed, connected, and supported, and I was able to return to the rest of Jesus’ fan club with a loving and caring spirit. That’s pure gold, pure gift. That is a treasure beyond price.
The Rev. Jen Fulton has served as Priest-in-Charge of St. John of the Cross Episcopal Church in Bristol, Indiana since 2014. She has been attending Gatherings since February 2020. She has been happily married to her husband, Brad, for 29 years. They have two children, Ben (20) and Lee (18), and one bonus child, Kris (18). She also shares her home with Shannon the dog, Misty the cat, and Rocky the bearded dragon.
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