By David Kneip
As I write these words, the grass in Abilene is brown, the leaves are off the trees, and the last few pecans are hanging on to bare branches. Were I a preacher, this scene might be a perfect illustration of the Saturday between Jesus’s death and his resurrection: it looks like a world that is waiting for new life.
However, I am not a preacher, and as it happens, I don’t think “death and resurrection” is actually what’s happening at the moment. The plant world around me is not dead, but rather actively living. It is quiet, perhaps even dormant, but things are happening. The perennials in my yard have been trimmed back, but the bulbs beneath the surface are growing downward and outward, developing their root systems. Within the bulbs, chemical changes are happening that are a result of the cold temperatures and that are getting them ready for warmer weather to come. And while the oak tree that gives us so much shade in the summer is currently bare, in just a few weeks it will begin sprouting thousands of leaves again.
This spring at ACU’s Summit gathering, our slogan is “Seeking Hope and Finding Joy,” and our accompanying graphic depicts a new shoot growing out of the stump of a tree. That image is not a reference to Isaiah 11:1’s branch that comes from the stump of Jesse and that will one day bear fruit. Rather, it acknowledges that, over these last few years, many parts of our lives seem to have been cut down, cut off, and cut apart by the global pandemic. Since those initial weeks of panic and concern in 2020, we’ve lived in a near-constant state of uncertainty: what should we do? what can we do? what’s wise and what’s foolish? is this safe? Constant uncertainty is hardly a breeding ground for hope and joy.
Here in the Siburt Institute, those questions have lingered in our minds and hearts as we’ve planned events to help equip church leaders and help churches thrive. We hold events on- and off-campus, in town and out of town, and it’s been a constant struggle to discern what is best. I am grateful that we, like so many churches and other organizations, have been able to pivot online with our new Intersection webinar series and an online version of Summit in 2020. But just last fall, we had planned an in-person Summit event on campus at ACU … and then the Delta wave hit.
We are planning another in-town gathering this spring; fortunately, the Omicron wave seems to be passing, and we are looking forward to being back together. Hope is growing, and joy seems just around the corner. A new shoot is rising from the cut-off stump.
This year, we’re trying something new with Summit, inviting our guests to choose a learning community with which to spend their time, rather than selecting from an array of activities. You can read more about our new format and aims in the article I wrote last summer for Wineskins.
We even have a new Summit community to add to the ones we had planned for the fall. We will still offer a general-interest group open to anyone, and we will still have groups focused on preaching ministry and small-church ministry. But we are excited to add a group focused on worship ministry, and it’s intentionally designed to serve churches of many different kinds and sizes. Our children’s ministry group plans to wait and meet in the fall, which of course only adds to the anticipation with that group. You can learn all about our plans for this spring’s event at the Summit home page.
By the end of March, the plants will be blooming in Abilene. The brown will give way to green, and barrenness will give way to fruitfulness. Come join us at Summit March 31 – April 1, as we hope to foster the same kind of growth in our relational and spiritual lives.
David Kneip is the associate director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He is a faculty member at Abilene Christian University, where his teaching focuses on church history, worship, and the New Testament. His research interests focus on the early church period, especially on historical theology and the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. With a ministry background primarily in youth and worship ministry, David has been able to continue those ministries as a dedicated volunteer in a local Abilene congregation, along with his wife and two daughters.