Advancing Pastoral Leadership Clergy Experience Greece and Italy
Twenty-one clergy colleagues and spouses hit the skies for a continuing education experience against an international backdrop.
Touring Rome, North Italy and Athens with Dr. James Fleming, lecturer and director of Biblical Resources, was the unique privilege of clergy in the Cohort IV of the Texas Conference Advancing Pastoral Leadership (APL) Program this month. As CEO of The Explorations in Antiquity Center, a museum of daily life in biblical times, Dr. Fleming shared how early followers of Jesus understood the trials and crucifixions, and gave the APL travelers a better understanding of architectural marvels and fascinating art treasures.
Rev. Josh Hale of Mission Bend UMC recaps the trip highlights. “Christians are people of the Book, but those who wrote and compiled it did so in a culture, language, and geography that still shapes the meaning of Scripture,” shares Josh. “We began 2017 with a trip to Greece and Italy to better understand the early church. Learning a new geography — in the world and in ourselves — began in Athens.”
Navigating the area’s coldest weather in 20 years was a challenge for the Texans in the group, but the snow didn't cool their passion for the Biblical, historical and cultural treasures discovered. Notes Josh, “The first stage of our journey was ably guided by Sophia, a Greek archaeologist who not only possessed a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, but also opened a window for us onto the challenges and strengths in contemporary Greek religious faith and society. Standing in the shadow of the Parthenon atop Mars Hill was the perfect introduction to the Apostle Paul's missionary vocation in Athens, and we continued to shadow him in Corinth, Phillipi, Berea, and Thessaloniki.” The group was then captivated and surprised by the lavish craftsmanship found in the Macedonian tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Adds Josh, “The monasteries perched atop the rock pillars of Meteora took our breath away with their precarious existence and exquisitely adorned Greek Orthodox churches. And, whether in quiet tabernas or coastal seafood restaurants, the food was exceptional!
Crossing the Adriatic, the clergy tour group came to Rome, a city of nearly a thousand churches. “Whether in the catacombs beneath the Appian Way or climbing up the Palatine Hill, matters of life and death, of faith and power were in constant competition,” he shares. “Our trip leader, Dr. Jim Fleming, was as invaluable here as he had been in Greece, illuminating the connections between a church-marked site and the book of Acts, or leading us to hear the Gospel's truth amidst the ruins of the mighty empire.” The group enjoyed the insight of Suzanne, an art historian who Josh says seemingly made the frescoes of Raphael and Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel as fresh and potent as they had been in the Renaissance. “In Pompeii, we not only marveled at an enormous excavation and snapshot of ordinary life, but also wondered what the Gospel has to say to the wealth and poverty of our own cities. The presence of Paul and Peter was inescapable as we peered into prison cells that held them and churches that marked the place of their burial.”
After 12 days, the group returned to ministries in Texas, Arkansas, and Kentucky with a deeper understanding of the Bible and the church's mission. Shares Josh, “Perhaps more important, we are taken hold of by a spiritual energy for the Gospel no matter where it takes us. He shares this verse: “May the glory be to God who can strengthen you with my good news and the message that I preach about Jesus Christ.” —Romans 16:25, CEB
On a trip like this, Rev. Christie Hale says, “Scriptures come alive.” Adds Christie, “To be able to experience the context in which the early church began provided me new insight not only for preaching and teaching but also for living out the Gospel today.”
APL is part of the Emerging Leaders Initiative of the Texas Annual Conference, designed to provide unique opportunities for participants to learn from a variety of leading pastors and community leaders while developing their capacity for fruitful leadership. This five-year program, designed for Texas Conference elders with 30 potential years of service to the church, is focused on intentional leadership development and formation.
Highlights from the trip include:
- A full day in Athens, touring the Acropolis, Niki Temple, Erechtheium, Mars Hill from where Paul preached to the Athenians, the House of Parliament, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Olympic Stadium and Presidential Palace.
- Corinth and Mycenae
- Meteora/Vergina and Beroea where Christian monasteries were built and where St. Paul preached.
- Thessaloniki/Philippi/Kavala which includes the most important archeological site in northern Greece.
- Rome, to see the Catacombs, Vatican, Sistine Chapel and Basilica of St. Peter and walking tour of the Coliseum and Arch of Titus.
According to program assistant Jenna Arnold, the next class of Advancing Pastoral Leadership will begin in November.
See More photos from the trip: