June 2007
"Learning Christ: Congregational Formation for the Long Haul"

Gathering Overview and Workshop Descriptions

If you haven't yet registered for this summer's gathering, you'll want to do so soon at our website. This year's gathering will feature inspiring preaching from Sharon Huey, Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, and Kyle Childress, insightful teaching on the book of Philippians from Steve Fowl, several opportunities to hear about the work of the Congregational Formation Initiative that has unfolded over the past three years, and the four following workshops, all of which center on issues concerning congregational formation:

"The Formative Power of Congregational Narratives" This workshop, led by Fuller Seminary professor and long-time EP endorser Mark Lau Branson, will focus on the critical ways in which congregations narrate their own stories, both in relation to surrounding cultural stories and in relation to the story of God's work in the world.

"Forming Young People Through Worship" How do you form young people to see worship as central to Christian faith and practice? And how do you help those same young people to embrace the riches of their worship heritage? David Butzu and Ben Lee, ministers at Hopwood Christian Church in Tennessee, have been doing just that for a number of years and will share some of their wisdom in this workshop.

"Sustaining Congregational Conversations for the Long Haul" Those of you who attended last year's gathering will remember the inspiring story shared by the folks from Englewood Christian Church about their life together. Two of their members, Michael Bowling and Susan Adams, will offer a workshop this year on the art of congregational conversation, a practice at the heart of all good congregational formation.

"Opening the CFI Toolbox" For the past two years, several congregations from around the country have been piloting curricular materials and a congregational formation process known as the Congregational Formation Initiative (CFI). This workshop, led by CFI Project Director Phil Kenneson and several other CFI participants, will explore some of these resources and offer suggestions for their use in local congregations.

The Fear of Beggars
Christian economics will never be the same. Kelly S. Johnson, EP endorser and founding member, has seen to that in her new book, The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics, the first title in the EP's new book series, The Eerdmans Ekklesia Series (published by Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing). Those fortunate enough to read this book will never again use the tired and troubled phrase "time, talent, and treasure," knowing the theological problems and aberrant nature of contemporary "stewardship" language now so common in Christian discourse. As importantly, though, Johnson makes a case for the central importance of voluntary poverty in the ecclesial life of the church. With St. Francis and Peter Maurin as her guides, she crafts an account of Christian economics centered not on the discourse of classical economics but rather on charity (in its true theological sense), humility, and dependence.

Writes Ched Myers: "An elegant treatise, Johnson's approach defies disciplinary apartheid, weaving a rich tapestry of theological and ethical reflection on faith and economics. Her historical exegesis of churchly stewardship discourse alone is worth the freight. And her commendation of Francis's 'economic unilateral disarmament' is welcome wisdom in our increasingly hard-hearted 'agonistic marketplace.'" (Reviewer M. Therese Lysaught)

Meet the EP
Nanci Hicks, new to the EP, introduces herself in these words:

I am a United Methodist clergy from North Georgia who directs a retreat center in northwestern Oregon. Beginning July 1, 2007 I will also be the part time pastor of a local congregation here in Oregon. My last experience in pastoral ministry was as an associate pastor of a 7200 member church in metro Atlanta. I can remember sitting in front of thousands of people on Sunday mornings with a very real sense that I was being swung around on the tail of a theological/ideological/praxis dinosaur. My greatest fear was that I would be thrown off. Hallelujah! I was thrown all the way to Oregon. Now, on the eve of going back into the pulpit as a "preacher of the Gospel", I am looking for resources to which I can also be a contributor that offer the life of the Gospel for this age and the next. I had heard of the Ekklesia Project and when I checked it out, it just made sense. This is where I need to be. The retreat center here is getting ready to move into community ministry offerings which are very exciting, relevant, and needed. Our team moves into this new area with fear and trembling but also with full knowledge that the Hospitality of God requires us to engage those who live around us. My husband works with me here at the center. We have a son in college in Georgia and a daughter who, after high school graduation June 2008, will head back to the sunny south

Financial Report
Given that this issue reviews Kelly Johnson's new book on Christian economics, we were tempted not to include a word on finances. But we do want to continue to thank those endorsers who have contributed financially to the EP this year. Some contribute by check, some online; some use Entango's automatic donation function to contribute regularly (monthly, quarterly); some donations are small, some are large. Every single one is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

From the Editor
I was not present for the very first EP Gathering: I recall being told that there around a dozen participants. I did make it for the second, when there were perhaps 35 of us. While the numbers have increased remarkably since those initial events, necessitating a certain degree of order and organization (never the EP's particular strong points), the quality of the fellowship we share has remained as rich as ever, a reminder that we are above all, as Stanley Hauerwas and Mike Budde argued in our very first pamphlet, "a school for subversive friendships." We gather out of many different strands of the Christian tradition, strands that do not always see eye-to-eye on theological, cultural, or political issues. No matter: we are fellow members of Christ's body, friends to one another as we all seek to grow as friends of God. There are no strangers at the gathering, no "new kids" hovering shyly on the periphery: hospitality is the primary spiritual discipline we practice together. When I must miss a Gathering, as I did last year, I grieve being deprived of the presence of my friends for a full year. There are many "content rich" events vying for our limited time, I know. But the EP Gathering, for me, is in the end not about content (although the content is certainly of high quality). It is about coming home; about being in the company of dear friends, including dear friends I have yet to meet. I hope you will be among them this year.

John McFadden, editor

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