The Gathering 2023 hosted over 1,500 Wesleyan clergy, families and community leaders for a time of relationship, vision and renewal.
“The Gathering was a wonderful opportunity to see God moving among us!” said Rev. Johanna Rugh, executive director of the Education and Clergy Development Division (ECD) of The Wesleyan Church (TWC). “The Education and Clergy Development Division is grateful for the leadership that Rev. Becci Wood (G23 director) and her team provided during this event. Seeing God's people worshiping and fellowshipping together was a wonderful reminder of how much our hearts longed for a time like this. It was beautiful to be able to witness so many ministers who attended with their families, and others who were refreshed by this time.”
Since the last Gathering in 2019, the landscape of local church leadership has changed. Pastors have had to reckon with a pandemic-shaped church (first, a pivot to online ministry instead of in-person gathering; then a return to in-person ministry with lower attendance and often fewer volunteers).
The Gathering 2023 provided nourishing space for pastors to learn what it means to faithfully — and sustainably — serve congregations.
Main sessions focused on building resilience in turbulence, following God in faithfulness now to prepare for harder seasons ahead, God’s trustworthiness to sustain and provide nourishment and life, bringing others and being brought to the feet of Jesus and the central importance of love in our congregations. Every topic felt deeply relevant for pastors ministering in congregations that are recalibrating for a post-pandemic “new normal.”
“The Gathering had great main sessions with anointed speakers and worship leaders,” reflected Noah Shigley, youth pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. “And The Gathering also did a great job of allowing space for rest or for meeting with other people from the denomination. This was soul filling; and it was a way I experienced God.”
Those dynamic main sessions harmonized with breakout sessions that allowed attendees to do a deep-dive into everything from “strategic finance” to “men and women thriving together in ministry” to “reimagining our holiness heritage for the next generation.” The diversity of topics met pastors in ways immediately applicable to their congregations, while also offering deep, substantive theological grounding to help churches practice innovation while remaining rooted in Wesleyan tradition.
“The Gathering was a perfect mix of seminars to stir your thinking, inspiring main rallies, and time for rest and reconnecting with old friends,” said Rev. Scott Conn, senior pastor at Laurel Wesleyan Church in Laurel, Delaware.
A new addition to The Gathering allowed for children to have a formative time, as well. Wonderspace provided an opportunity for kids to explore imaginatively through “Big Blue Blocks,” a glow party, and various avenues of faith formation. One of the greatest assets WonderSpace brought was a way of memorizing Scripture through “Story Sticks” — small wooden sticks with joints that help storytellers convey Bible stories with a dynamic visual aid.
“Our son got introduced to ‘Story Sticks’ at Wonderspace,” one attendee said. “He had such a positive interaction with using those as a way to engage Scripture that we decided to implement them at our church to help students engage with Bible memorization in an embodied way.”
As much as the programming offered rich content for pastors to learn, some of the real beauty of The Gathering happens between programming: in the connections, new and old, that can emerge when pastors and families are together without having a primary focus on doing business in the church.
“I see The Gathering like a big Christ-centered family reunion with a whole lot of other benefits,” said Rev. Amber Cook, lead pastor at Grace Fellowship in Princeton, Indiana. “The best part for me was reuniting with ministry partner friends who are like family from the other side of the world. The connection opportunity is always a highlight for me. I also was blessed by the worship times together.”
“Our hearts rejoiced to see different generations, nationalities, calls to the ministry, all united by the same desire to seek the face of God and being blessed with the ministry of the Word during the main sessions and seminars,” said Rev. Rugh. “The way the participants responded to God's Word was an answer to our prayers. It’s our hope that the time ministers spent at The Gathering has blessed their families and congregations upon their return and we pray that we’ll have the opportunity to see each other again soon.”