Carol and I returned last Wednesday night from our week long vacation that had, at its center, the Christian Life Conference. Things have changed at the conference after our four summer absence. The PCUSA's decades-long controversy over the authority of scripture (which controversy is at the base of all other controversies there) has resulted in the departure of several of the large churches that supported the conference, resulting in fewer people in attendance, a much smaller budget, and a well-meaning leadership cast that did the best they could.
The conference did not lack substance. Stuart and Jill Briscoe, keynote speaker and plenary Bible study leader, respectively, were very good. (Jill Briscoe had a particularly special impact on all of us, I think.) Jim Singleton, representing Fellowship PC (USA), gave two fine seminars on what is developing in the movement of many of the Evangelical churches away from the world-conforming center of our denomination (and probably out of it).
There was also a Craig Barnes sighting, when he gave about half of his one sermon Sunday morning. He served up that slightly disappointing morsel at the Conference Center's worship service, a service that was notable for a fine, contemporary choir, on the one hand, but, on the other, a final, three stanza hymn that did not mention any member of the Trinity! (The program notes said this particular hymn is among the new, contemporary hymns that will make up nearly half of the new PCUSA hymnbook coming out soon. I can hardly wait.)
The conference center's auditorium was less than half full during the plenary sessions. The dining hall at Anderson was only about one-fifth full during the meals we took there. In past years the dining hall was full of people, a place where our family crowded in for happy meals, where friendships were made and renewed and the ice-cream dipping station was hard to reach for all the adults and kids. The seminar menu itself seemed very lean
Marlene and Gary hosted us at their home. What a wonderful feature of our visit! They had also invited to stay with them a clergy couple from our Presbytery whom we knew. That fellowship made this summer's visit very special. But my heart went out to (and was instructed by) the obvious struggle that the pastor-half of the clergy couple is having with the denominational crisis. I am glad that their church is in our Presbytery, however. Carol and I will be depending on its leadership (as well as that of a few other churches) as we strive to discern what God is calling us to do with our congregation.