Online Pastors and Leaders conference to focus on “Thriving Together”

Published: December 11, 2020

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Offering church leaders space to “be” while learning how to thrive as leaders and congregations in the midst of the unprecedented disruption of COVID-19 will be the focus of Pastors and Leaders 2021, an annual conference of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana. The event, which will be held online for the first time, begins at 7 p.m. EST on March 1 and concludes at 2 p.m. EST on March 4.

Planners of this year’s conference — whose theme is “Thriving Together” — want to give pastors and other leaders the opportunity to “get away” and recharge in the midst of a difficult and demanding time, says Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, Ph.D., AMBS dean of Lifelong Learning and a member of the planning committee.

“Often, and especially in these disruptive times, leaders don’t have the option to set aside their responsibilities to just ‘be’ — in the presence of God, mentors, peers or friends,” she reflected. “So much of leaders’ energy gets expended just surviving from week to week, and little is left for worship, contemplation, learning, or sharing their hearts.”

According to Gingerich Longenecker, planners are designing the event to be “both a learning opportunity and an experience.”

“Participants will be able to hear from and engage with dynamic, wise teachers, and to be in the present moment — feeling love and connection, relaxing and ‘letting go,’ and being nourished and inspired,” she said.

Preachers and teachers

Conference planners have invited the following speakers to reflect on how to lead well in a time of pandemic, racial reckoning, climate crisis and political upheaval, and to give insights into what congregations need to thrive in today’s world:

  • Cynthia L. Hale, D.Min., founder and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia, will open the event with a plenary address during worship on Monday evening, March 1. On Tuesday, March 2, she will speak during another plenary session and give input during a question-and-answer time.
  • James Nelson Gingerich, M.D., a doctor and leader at Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen, Indiana, will present the plenary address on Wednesday morning, March 3, and give input during a question-and-answer time that afternoon.
  • Marvin Lorenzana, D.Min., who is based in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and is the incoming president of Eastern Mennonite Missions, will provide plenary input on Thursday morning, March 4, and be available for a question-and-answer time.
  • Drew Strait, Ph.D., assistant professor of New Testament and Christian origins at AMBS, will preach during the sending worship service on Thursday afternoon, March 4.

The conference also will include immersive experiences of shared worship, small group conversations, workshops, and opportunities to take creative breaks away from the computer.

Worship leaders Katie Graber, Ph.D., and Anneli Loepp Thiessen, M.M., co-directors of the Anabaptist Worship Network, will guide participants in using resources from the new Voices Together hymnal, which they helped develop.

Workshop proposals

Planners are seeking proposals for workshops for the online conference, Gingerich Longenecker noted. Proposals, which are due Jan. 15, should speak to experiences or practices that have helped leaders, congregations and communities thrive.

Mini-grants available

Gingerich Longenecker hopes that leaders can negotiate with their congregations or employers to set aside time in their own homes to join the online conference. The seminary’s Church Leadership Center, which organizes the annual event, is making available mini-grants that could help pay for childcare, a new headset or router, or access to a quieter workspace, for example, to enable people to participate fully in the event.


The registration fee for the conference is $150 USD per computer screen until Jan. 19, 2021; between Jan. 20 and the close of registration on Feb. 22, 2021, the fee is $200 USD per computer screen. Discounts are available for prospective AMBS students.

Participants who attend all plenary and workshop sessions may earn 1.2 Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

To learn more, to register, to inquire about mini-grants or to submit a workshop proposal, see:

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