August 12, 2013

Joining the Cloud

The Senate of the Ministers Council is gathering at Green Lake, and I have the privilege of representing ABASA, the association of American Baptist Seminary leaders.  It is good to be at the table with these seasoned pastors so that we might think together about the role of theological education in promoting spiritually healthy and humanly sensitive congregational leaders  (I may suggest that Central's mission statement guide our discussion!)

            As I entered the sacred grounds of the Green Lake Conference Center, a certain peace descended.  These grounds are hallowed by fervent prayer, vocational discernment, spiritual renewal, and missional kindling.  Indeed, the cloud of witnesses surrounds one in this place. Generations have found this to be holy ground as they listened for the voice of God.
            When one speaks of "joining the cloud" in our day, it is usually about finding better ways to store all the data that we believe necessary to support our activities, and I have signed up.  It is good to have access to those stored sermons if called upon for a Baptist witness.

            The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the great cloud of witnesses at the beginning of chapter 12, after the long list of faithful forebears mentioned in chapter 11.  The author exhorts those seeking to follow Jesus to remember those who have gone before and are cheering them on their present race.  Theologians usually think of the cloud of witnesses as those whose "rest is won" in God's eternal safekeeping. Yet, I wonder if there is not another way to think of this text.
            Also gathered at Green Lake is a "call conference" sponsored by International Ministries, which is a time for prospects for missionary service to explore their calling.  Seasoned missionaries join these candidates, providing guidance and reflection on their long years of learning other cultures and languages, all for the purpose of bearing witness to the one they seek to follow.  Honest about early mistakes and burnished by adversity, these "real missionaries" encourage the fledglings by reminding them that Jesus is their pathfinder and remains in view.
            I was barely seated at breakfast when Patricia Hernandez, national director of Women in Ministry for ABC (and Central DMin student), brought two young women to talk with me about seminary.  Pat is acting as a card-carrying member of the "cloud" by her encouragement of the next generation. I give thanks for her advocacy.
            We each have the opportunity to be in someone's cloud by our prayer and our personal interest.  We can open doors and help shine light on opportunities yet to be considered.  God has more to say to a person than she or he can hear alone; each needs companions who can help interpret God's holy nudge.

            Molly T. Marshall

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