For the first time, the Kern Fellows Program at Acton University this year included pastors engaged with the Kern Pastors Network (KPN). The KPN is a new initiative of The Kern Family Foundation that reaches out to pastors who received seminary scholarships from the Foundation with the goal of building disciples in the areas of work and the economy. The KPN is dedicated to growing the numbers and influence of pastors and churches that are actively integrating faith, work, and economics for ministry that produces human flourishing. Sixteen Kern Pastors attended AU this year; a testimonial letter from one of them, Blaine Crawford of Lake Community Church in Rochester, N.Y., appears below. You can learn more about the KPN by checking out www.kernpastorsnetwork.org.
“My experience at Acton University was fantastic. I have become an overnight evangelist for the conference. I’ve already told other pastors, professors, church members, and friends who work in fields such as finance and development about the conference. It was challenging, encouraging, and exciting to participate in a cross-disciplinary conference like this one. I loved the interactions and the opportunity to learn about topics as diverse as John Wesley and Austrian economics all in a day. I also enjoyed the informal conversations I had in the hallways and around dinner tables with people in all different fields, and learning about what they were processing from their Acton experience.
I have summarized the conference to others as one exploring faith, work, economics, and public policy, and I have been surprised at how excited friends and church members were that I would go to such a conference. Some were interested in specific sessions I attended; others have asked if they can attend next year. One (very unscientific) way I evaluate conferences is whether I would attend it again. I would, without a doubt, attend Acton again next year, and move my schedule around to make it fit. The ideas, the networking, and the learning are invaluable. This conference is a great introduction the content of these fields.
Two major things remain with me after the conference. First, I realized I have lots to learn in the areas of work, economics, and public policy. Second, I have lots of other people, including a number of pastors, who want to take this journey with me in the future. The breakout group exclusively for pastors on Thursday morning was one of the highlights of the week. We had listened to a number of lectures at that point, and were able to gather together and speak about our specific contexts and churches. Not only was it helpful to hear the ideas percolating in the minds of others, but it was encouraging to learn about the tangible steps some churches are taking to implement them. I was also able to connect with another pastor during that time who serves a church comprised of largely retired members, which is just like the demographic of my church. We were able to share lunch later in the week and talk more about what these ideas mean in our churches.
The compelling ideas I’m still working through involve the economic material that was presented, specifically content from Jennifer Roback Morse’s lecture, “The Economic Way of Thinking.” This foundational knowledge of economics is new to me, and I’m still trying to understand the vernacular, concepts, and economics as a whole. Before Acton University, I probably would have used words like “market” and “capitalism” interchangeably. Yet I found these new concepts to be exciting, not just because they were new to me, but because they will help me enter into the business world that many peers and some parishioners have entered. I’m excited to try to link the foundations of Christianity to their work as entrepreneurs, accountants, investors, and economists. The compelling idea is that economics matter to God, and because economics matter to God, they should matter to the church as well.
The biggest challenge is the complexity and size of the task at hand. We need interdisciplinary work to be done to turn the tides of our society. We need the church, education, economics, and politics to work together as we strive for human flourishing. The largeness of this task can be daunting and sometimes depressing. As one parishioner I was processing the conference with asked, “Where do we even begin?” This is the question I am wrestling with right now. Where do I begin as an individual? Where do we begin as a local congregation? Where do we begin as a neighborhood? It’s one thing to talk about change; it’s another to enact change.
I came back to Rochester with both long- and short-term steps in mind. First, in my pastoral prayer every Sunday, I have started to include prayers for different vocations, including the part-time, volunteer, and non-paid jobs that many of my retired members do on a daily basis. The second immediate application was to learn all I could about the members who still work in my congregation. I have started meeting with them, and asking them all I can about their daily and weekly routines to get a better sense not only of their work, but how they view their work. Soon, I will begin visiting a few of them at their places of work.
As for long-term steps, I also have two primary goals. First, in our next cycle of Christian education classes, I would like to teach a class on faith and work. Second, I want to explore the ideas of calling and work with a small group of high school boys that I meet with throughout the school year. While they are still a few years away from college and work, it may be formative to get them thinking about these ideas now.
Again, I would like to reiterate how meaningful and challenging Acton University was for me. I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to attend again next year, and will greatly encourage other Kern Pastors and colleagues in general to join me. I look forward to how God will use this conference in my life to minister faithfully in my local congregation.”
Rev. Blaine D. Crawford
Lakeview Community Church
Rochester, New York