By Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence
For the fourth time since 2008, we convened our annual convention south of Boston at lovely Bridgewater State University, easily accessible by car and train and only a short drive from both our Bridgewater and Elmwood churches. Overall, our hybrid attendance saw numbers approaching our older times when we always had more than 200 people at convention. With a little over 100 people physically on campus and a little over 100 people attending various events virtually, our annual gathering has been growing again. To help us achieve this upward tilt, we were supported in our evolving hybrid capabilities through the skillful and vigorous presence of our new Digital Communications Manager, Rudy Caseres, who utilized robust teamwork with a support team that included Beki Greenwood, Emily Tergliafera, and Brittany Price. Our annual gatherings now forevermore will enable people to be present and active in vital ways from any part of the world.
Over the years our educational experiences at convention have become a genuine high point of our gatherings. I remember the times before Mini Courses! Introduced now a few decades ago to evolve our summer gatherings to be more spiritually oriented and not so endlessly dominated by business sessions, our spiritual education program has become the most popular part of convention, and over the past few years we’ve maximized our virtual participation and in-person participation in careful ways. For each time slot one course is in-person physically only, one course is virtual only, and two are hybrid. I applaud the range of spiritual and educational experiences that were carefully curated by our Standing Committee on Education and Resources for Spiritual Community (SCER), chaired by Dr. Rebecca Esterson, and again this year we enjoyed wonderfully rich encounters with history, education, cultural diversity, and spiritual formation.
Additionally, the ordination of the now Rev. Dr. Devin Zuber enriched and blessed our gathering this year. A rising star professor at the Graduate Theological Union and the Center for Swedenborgian Studies, Devin over the past decade has engaged a long and thoughtful process of spiritual leadership and ministry formation in the pastoral work at the San Francisco church under the purview of Rev. Junchol Lee. He has also long been under the guidance of our Committee on Admissions to the Ministry for his particular setting in education in addition to congregational presence. His stimulating ordination talk is included in this issue.
Our Council of Ministers meetings handled important ministry matters that included processing and accepting the Vision of Ministry statements from three new ordinands: Lynn Thompson, Eleanor Schnarr, and Roxanne Sperry. The Council had some fun with an exercise of creating taglines for our spirituality that produced such “bumper stickers” as “Inner Growth, Outer Change,” “No Love, No Wisdom,” “What’s Next?,” and also recovered one from our eighties conventions, “Life’s a Miracle and then You Live Forever.”
Finally, this was a year when our convention dates not only went across the Fourth of July but it also fell on our Outing Day. Given past experiences with Fourth of July traffic and congestion problems, we decided to stay local and enjoy the south of Boston semi-rural scenery. Most people in convention have never been to the “new” Elmwood church that was completely rebuilt several years ago, and we also had an invitation from Roger and Nina Grindle of the Elmwood church to enjoy their large and beautiful property spread for an old fashioned Fourth of July cookout. Our buses took us first to explore the delightful Elmwood church and then on to the cookout, where terrific conversations and community occurred with all age groups.
We are a family-size denomination, and as the saying goes, “Families are like branches on a tree: we may grow in some different directions, but our roots nurture all of us together.”
Read the full issue of the Convention Special 2023 Messenger
Meet Jim Lawrence
Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence is the president of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. He was the dean of the Center for Swedenborgian Studies for 21 years prior to being elected President in 2022.