Pastors from across North America gathered in mid-September for the first-ever Christian Reformed pastors conference in Calgary, Alta. Created by Pastor Church Resources, the conference brought together 56 pastors from across Canada and the United States for a time of fellowship, learning, rest, and encouragement.
The Sept. 12-14 weekend included times of learning on a variety of topics such as well-being and leadership. It also included fellowship, a trip to Banff National Park and Lake Louise to enjoy creation, and a time of communion and worship in which pastors could simply participate, rather than lead.
The theme of the conference, “Refreshed for the Call,” focused on helping pastors reflect on their calling and consider ways to care for themselves as a way of caring for their ministry in the long term.
“There is a beauty to being in a room surrounded by people who simply get what it means to be a pastor,” said Kelli Sexton of Christ Community Church in Nanaimo, B.C. One practical take-away she found was “to set up a rhythm of spending the last 15 minutes of my workday on something that brings me joy.”
Other pastors who attended agreed that it was a highlight to connect with other people who know the challenges and joys of being in pastoral ministry.
The conference was open to all CRC pastors active in parish ministry. To encourage pastors to come, registration and accommodation costs were low, and pastors traveling more than 300 km (200 mi.) were eligible for grants to cover some of their travel expenses.
Lis Van Harten, codirector of Pastor Church Resources (PCR), was excited to see the conference come together. PCR works to help pastors flourish in ministry — something Van Harten has been passionate about since she began working there in 2003.
“Being able to stand in front of the conference attendees was a very moving moment for me,” she said. “We did it! The pastors had their own conference!”
The ministry has hosted six pastors’ spouses conferences since 2008. At the 2018 event, Dr. Chris Adams spoke to pastors’ spouses about well-being and flourishing in ministry.
“We heard many times, ‘My husband needs to hear this,’” said Van Harten. She had long wanted to begin a pastors conference, and that feedback from pastors’ wives nudged her to begin planning one.
Adams agreed to be the keynote speaker for the pastors conference as well, and he covered similar topics of well-being and thriving in ministry. A third-generation pastor’s kid as well as a clinical psychologist, Adams understands the joys and challenges of pastoral ministry and communicates well with pastors, frequently speaking at seminaries and conferences.
Verlan Van Ee of Kenosha (Wis.) CRC said was able to use some of his learning just days after the conference ended. He was helping in the examination of a ministry candidate and was able to formulate several questions from topics covered at the pastors conference.
In addition to the practical learning, he said, “This was the most social and deeply satisfying gathering in which I have ever participated.”
Everett Vander Horst of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ont., reflected that was also looking forward to seeing colleagues he hadn’t seen in a while, and he enjoyed both the learning and the downtime at the pastors conference.
“Pastoral ministry is a tough and often lonely calling,” he said. “A retreat like this is a safe place to be not okay.”
Several pastors, in sharing their thoughts about the event, expressed appreciation for the work of Pastor Church Resources. “I’m thankful to be part of a church that cares enough for its pastors to organize a retreat like this one,” said Leon Johnston of Neerlandia (Alta.) CRC.
Many pastors agreed that they hope to attend the next pastors conference, already planned for Oct. 26-28, 2021, in Albuquerque, N.Mex.