words by chris
Amazingly, fifty-five pastors filed into the sanctuary punctually and ended their conversations promptly. These men and women were here to listen and learn; to ask difficult questions of the church, society and of the ancient texts. I had warned our invited guest, Dr. Stephen Chester, that in Latin American culture we seldom start on time, we will socialize well beyond the allotted time, because we value relationships more than tasks. Furthermore, many of these pastors had travelled for hours and hours to be present and rarely see other pastors. My ostensible expertise on Ecuadorian culture was questioned by Stephen when every session began on
time…or early! I think bucking our long-held habits was a sign of our deep need as a church here to have a space to discuss safely theological and pastoral issues that are affecting our ministries. We have few opportunities to discuss doubts, questions, ideas, and practices with one another. It also was a sign of IPEE’s leadership organization of the event and ensuring we took full advantage of our weekend together.
By holding an annual pastoral symposium the leadership of IPEE, partnering with the Seminario de IPEE (Covenant Seminary of Ecuador), hopes to gather pastors together to discuss often-divisive themes and topics in a safe and moderated environment. At times pastors within the same denomination maintain varying perspectives and interpretations, which is honored and respected, yet lack a needed unifying procedure or process around interpretive and pastoral practices. This year’s theme focused on Divorce and Remarriage. Divorce was quite uncommon in Ecuador until recently. Due to its uncommon practice, most pastors and churches
had not really discussed the ethics or procedures behind acceptable divorce and remarriage within their communities. A sudden surge of divorce within and outside of the church in Ecuador has caught many faith communities without adequate or appropriate responses, with reactions ranging from legalistic and rigid to open and laissez faire.
While an identity marker of the Covenant church is unity within diversity, especially around practice, worship, and interpretation of Scripture, IPEE leadership hopes that by gathering pastors together to study relevant scripture with an outside scholar and by encouraging open, agenda-free discussions about the text and our current social context, we can grow to understand one another, critique our own practices and pastoral responses, as well as agree on some proper procedures. The pastoral symposium invites a scholar to lead a series of lectures, with Q&A following each lecture. Additionally, there are group discussion times with guidelines on very specific issues, such as problematic biblical texts or case studies within the church. The initial event is simply to ensure that we all have a common base to our conversation, that we have all heard the same interpretive and scholarly issues surrounding the biblical texts before we even begin talking about our pastoral response. Follow-up events in our local districts will prohibit the discussion from ending, but rather commit us to continuing to reflect, converse and critique together.
This first year we invited Dr. Stephen Chester from North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago to come in October. Stephen is a New Testament scholar (you may want to check-out his book on Reading Paul with the Reformers) and led us well in the symposium, balancing deep study of the text and the first-century Jewish and Greco- Roman world along with challenging us to reflect on our own particular contexts. So many pastors commented positively on our time together and Stephen’s gracious ability to balance history, theology and pastoral concerns, especially in reference to Scriptures’ preoccupation with the protection of women. We were very grateful for his willingness to accept the difficult task of travel and presenting biblical texts, yet ensuring we reflected on our own context, culture, and practice.
We hope next year’s theme on Trauma and Forgiveness will be equally appreciated and beneficial to the church. Please pray for our pastors and leaders as we minister to families and individuals in many difficult and trying relationships, that we would be gracious yet grounded in our responses and care. Pray that we can discern how to lead couples and families in counseling, and most importantly when to encourage women and their children to leave a dangerous situation. We also ask that you would keep pastors’ marriages in your minds and prayers, as ministry can be harmful to couples that do not take the time to care for themselves and one
If you would like to support either the pastoral symposium or pastoral family care we have two giving opportunities through the ECC and the Center for World Christian Studies at North Park. Your support and concern is greatly appreciated.