I first heard about The Ekklesia Project from old friend Barry Harvey, and began to notice that a number of theology books that engaged my thinking as a pastor were by authors connected in some way to EP. I became an endorser in 2004 and in Brent Laytham’s initial welcome we realized that, some years earlier, he and I were pastors in the same town and that my wife was his daughter’s first piano teacher (the same Monica who graced this year’s Gathering). As he said at the time, “TheEkklesia Project is not only about finding friends you didn’t know you had, it’s also about finding them again!”
The friendships formed and deepened since then are indeed a blessing and a cause for gratitude. I appreciate the dialogues that go beyond shallow ecumenism, even what one of my teachers called “the friction of friendly minds.”
I attended my first Gathering in 2005. (Love those Gatherings – they’re a Baptist mountain preacher’s version of Rumspringa. Just kidding about the Rumspringa part!).
I’m a native of Salisbury, NC and shaped by Baptists in the South. In the fifteen years following seminary, I was a campus minister, most of that time at Wingate University, and have been a pastor for 21 years. I’ve been the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Weaverville, NC for fifteen years now.
In considering influences/heroes/saints, I think about members of my congregation – some elderly folks who handle the ravages of aging with grace and good cheer, the Latino ladies who crack their skull every Monday night learning English – and fellow pastors who keep at it and stay connected to the Word and to their people. Beyond them, two Texans come to mind. Ralph Wood taught the first “Religion and Literature” class I took in college and has remained teacher, friend and mentor in the intervening years. Don Mosley (and others) at Jubilee Partners, an intentional Christian community, have lived lives of radical discipleship influenced by the profoundly embodied witness of Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Community.
I also have to mention Jim McClendon. I keep close at hand his description of reading Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus: “Late at night, reading that book with wet eyes, sitting up in bed, I scrawled a note, later lost, to myself. In substance the note said, ‘Having read this book I had discovered again the disciple’s way. I meant to set out afresh to follow it.'”