Last week I went to the CCDA conference in Chicago. Speakers included John Perkins, Brenda Salter McNeil, Wayne Gordon, Harvey Carey and Barbara Williams-Skinner. I attended workshops on personal spirituality, confessions of the church, enemy love, and building multi-ethnic churches. This was my 10th conference and the newest part of it for me this year is that I’m a member of the Emerging Leaders Cohort (read about that here). As I sat through sessions I was challenged and encouraged, but for me this conference was not so much about discovering a new teaching as it was about maintaining connections.
As I spent time with friends, new and old, from other parts of the country I realized that I was drawn to these conversations because I have lacked connection. I was struck by my need for encouraging words and actions in my life.
Hanging out with the “cohort”was a blessing to me.Â These new friends of mine don’t have to spend time with me, but several of them made it a priority to include me as they went to dessert or as we sat together during worship. We had dinner and went bowling together (this was the one mandatory interaction, but was fun anyway). This group is a place where I can worship freely, with my hands in my pockets or my hands in the air, clapping or not, moving my feet or sitting down. I have lacked that kind of welcome to be myself in worship. I have the opportunity with them to be included in things like the hip-hop cafe for free-style and poetry readings (sadly I couldn’t go because of my early morning flight). This is a group where I can express myself freely, and be loved, because they have no pre-conceived notions of who I am. It is good.
Another blessing was spending my lunches and free times (and even missing a few workshops) catching up with friends. One friend, who I met 12 years ago and haven’t seen in 3 years, only came to the conference for one day. We had lunch and then a couple hours after that just catching up, sharing where we are at, listening to him talk about what God is bringing him through. It’s encouraging to hear the stories of others, to know that the walk is not all sunshine and roses for everyone else (and I’m therefore looney?) and to know that we are all walking forward in this life for Christ together wherever God has placed us. Over lunch with one more friend I was encouraged in my gifts, their usefulness to her in the coming year, and that my input is valuable to her and her ministry. I’m sure she has no idea how much I needed to feel that valued.
So yes, it was a good conference. It was well worth my time and UC’s money. But I warn you now, that if you ask me what I learned, I’ll have to look at the notes I took because that was by far not the biggest gain in my week.
To read more about my cohort experience so far read here.