Clergy serve in one of the only licensed professions with no requirements for continuing education at all. Does that mean that your professional development should end with your M.Div? No! Going to conferences is an important way to network, skill-build, and keep your passion for ministry fresh.
Are you negotiating for a new job? Try and get your church to give you a line item for continuing ed. Five days and a thousand dollars a year is not an unreasonable ask, and if you arrange your trip so that you’re back in time for Sunday morning, your congregation will hardly know you’re gone.
But how should you spend those treasured professional development dollars? Here are a few ideas, in loose calendar order.
Mental Health First Aid. If you only have $40 to spend on continuing ed this year, I can’t recommend this eight-hour course highly enough. Just like standard First Aid helps you distinguish between a minor scrape that you can bandage yourself and a serious gash that calls for a trip to the emergency room, Mental Health First Aid offers practical strategies that will help you discern (1) whether someone is experiencing an acute mental health crisis and (2) how to assist them if they are. Courses are available all over the United States and in several other countries, or you can hire a trainer to come teach a course for your church or clergy group. I’ve taken both the youth and adult modules and found them enormously helpful in pastoral ministry. Find a course here.
Progressive Youth Ministry Conference. I wish this gathering had been around when I was a full-time youth worker, because every youth ministry conference I went to back then was straight out of the movie Saved! If you minister with youth in a progressive faith tradition, keep this on your radar. The next one is next week: March 8-10, 2017, at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, NC. I wish I were going just so I could hear from Lauren Winner, an author, theologian, and Episcopal priest best-known (in my circles) for writing Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, and Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.
Revolutionary Love Conference. For faith leaders who are serious about disrupting and dismantling racism. This gathering is open to people of all faiths, though the keynoters are predominantly Christian and/or Unitarian Universalist. Speakers this year will include William Barber and Brian McLaren. The next one is April 28-30, 2017, at Middle Church in New York, NY.
OPEN Network Conference. Where are my progressive evangelical friends? Allow me to introduce you to the OPEN Network, which seeks to combine everything that is beautiful about evangelical Christianity with a vision for a more just and generous world. They have two conferences coming up this spring: She Is Called (for women in church leadership) from May 2-4, 2017, at West End Collegiate Church in New York, NY; and Judaism and the Spiritual Quest (a study course on Judaism for Christian leaders) from May 4-7, 2017, at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.
FTE Christian Leadership Forum. This is one of the Forum for Theological Exploration’s many outstanding initiatives for training, supporting, and inspiring Christian faith leaders. I attended an earlier iteration of this conference as a college student, and it played a major role in confirming my call to ordained ministry. There are two tracks: One for young adults in discernment, and one for clergy and religious professionals. The next one is May 31 to June 3, 2017, at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center in Atlanta, GA. Register by March 1 to get the early bird rate!
Summer Institute on Theology and Disability. Hosted by the Collaborative on Faith & Disabilities, this one looks really cool. It brings together theologians, clergy, religious educators, and other people who want to “explore the inclusive intersections of faith and disabilities.” This gathering is open to people of all faiths, though the speakers are predominantly Christian and Jewish.The next one will be June 5-8, 2017, at Azusa Pacific University in sunny Azusa, CA.
Young Clergy Women Project Conference. If you’re a young clergy woman (defined as “in the ordination process before age 35, ordained before age 40”), you should definitely join the free YCW online community, and might want to consider attending their annual conference. The next one is July 10-13, 2017, in Vancouver, BC, with the theme of “Our Stories, God’s Stories.”
Why Christian? I went to this conference last year and it was a game-changer. Curated by progressive Christian superstars Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans, it’s organized as a series of talks that all attempt to answer the question: Why are you still a Christian when there are so many reasons not to be? The 2016 speakers included a whole bunch of my Christian celebrity crushes, among them Jeff Chu, Julie Rodgers, and Deborah Jian Lee. There was a strong “recovering evangelical” vibe among the attendees, but as a recovering Catholic I felt quite at home. The 2017 conference will most likely be in the early fall.
Festival of Faith & Writing. Sponsored by Calvin College, this gathering takes place once every two years and brings together Christian writers from every genre: poets, bloggers, novelists, essayists, bloggers, academics, and more. Speakers at the last one included Mallory Ortberg, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Zadie Smith. The next one is April 12-14, 2018. Note: Calvin is the college of the Christian Reformed Church, and therefore is not exactly a utopia of LGBTQ acceptance. Read the college’s disingenuous policy statement here and decide whether this is a dealbreaker for you.
Creating Change Conference. This is the annual gathering of the National LGBTQ Task Force, and their Faith Organizing track always has some exciting workshops. In 2017, they included Becoming a Change Maker Inside the Christian Church, Healing Forward: Liberating our Faith, and Digital Strategies For Faithful Action. Of course, there are dozens of other workshops to facilitate organizing, learning, and healing. The next conference is January 24-28, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Center for Courage & Renewal Retreats. The Center for Courage & Renewal runs retreats and conferences based on the work of Parker Palmer. They offer many programs for clergy and faith leaders, including Courage to Lead for Young Clergy (with “young” loosely defined as “primarily ages 40 and under”). Check out the website for a complete listing of programs. Registration and dates for the next young clergy program should be available soon.
Did I leave out your favorite ecumenical professional development experience? Are you planning to attend one of these gatherings in the year to come? Leave a note in the comments!