I was one of those students.
As we boarded the airplane, there was plenty of uncertainty to go around. We were unaware what to expect from this conference, from the speakers, and from the town of Alexandria, Virginia, where the majority of the learning would occur.
But as we landed in Washington D.C., those uncertainties shifted, and evoked an air of excitement. Excitement to see the monuments and museums, an excitement to interact with and learn from over 1000 other ministry leaders, pastors, and church planters at the ecumenical conference. But, most of all, excitement to see what the Spirit of God was going to convict us of, challenge us with, and put on our hearts as we attended the plenary addresses, workshops, and community meals.
We were not disappointed.
From N.T. Wright, to local Gospel choirs, to Latina theologian Ruth Padilla-Deborst, we listened to and learn from leading theologians, scholars, and pastors on the topic of the Holy Spirit. It was an incredible opportunity to discern not only where the Spirit was leading our particular denominations, but very personally, where the Spirit was leading each individual in the future of their ministries.
It was an opportunity for denominational ties and theological differences to take a back seat, allowing for the Holy Spirit took the lead. As we worshipped, prayed, and learned communally—it gave us as individuals the opportunity to learn from other Pentecostal, Methodist, United, Reformed, Catholic, and non-denominational leaders just to name a few.
As we got together, participated in various sessions and groups seeking to shed-light on some of the following questions:
How does your community discern the Spirit? How does your community hear the Spirit? What does Spirit-led discipleship, community building, and prayer look like in our various denominational and cultural contexts?
In one particularly powerful experience, I found myself at a session entitled “The Holy Spirit and Healing Prayer.” Coming from a primarily CRC background, with some experience with the Pentecostal Church and missions overseas, I was looking forward to what insight the various other leaders may have into this topic. As I entered into the stuffy, third floor Sunday school room, in the 19th century Baptist Church, questions, experiences, and expectations fluttered in and out of my mind.
Does healing even happen? Are we going to be laying hands on one another? Will people be praying in tongues?
All of my previous experiences, both positive and negative, flooded my heart and mind as I sat quietly, awaiting the beginning of the session. As the leaders sat down and introduced themselves, they told us that we will be doing “Emmanuel Prayer,” something that I had never heard of in all my time spent with healing ministries. As they continued, they informed us that this was a personal, silent, reflective prayer—an opportunity to listen to the Spirit, an opportunity to remember times when Jesus has been close to you, and to ask the Spirit to move in an heal our wounds.
In some ways, I felt a bit ripped off. What, no laying of hands? No words of wisdom? No physical manifestations of the power of God? What kind of healing prayer is this?
Somewhat reluctantly, I received their request to silence my heart, my mind, and sit in that stillness. It was as I sat in that still, silent, stale place that I felt the presence of God in a way that I had never before. It was in the silence that I was reminded of His continual, never-ending company through every moment of my life—the days of darkness and the days of overwhelming joy. As the tears flowed down my face, something became evidently clear as never before.
We do not need conferences (though they are incredible), moving sermons, or emotionally charged worship to ‘enter into’ the presence of the Holy Spirit. As one speaker stated, ‘We cannot jump in and out of the presence of God’. God is with us always. The Spirit dwells within each of our hearts. Instead of deeper more complex theology, instead of louder more dynamic worship, and instead of more moving emotional preaching we need to be still. We need to make space for silence, for God does not only speak in the wind or the earthquakes, but in the whispers.
This conference moved me intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. Better yet, the Spirit moved in me at this conference. Not because I attended, but because I took time to listen, to discern, and to be open to the various voices, ideas, and people that filled the seats of every address, session, and meal.