What's Tony Thinking

Flourishing Congregations: A Conversation


A couple weeks ago Richard Topping, the President of Vancouver School of Theology, taped an interview with me that is now available on the school’s You Tube channel. Here’s the link. 

Richard begins by asking me what a “flourishing congregation” looks like. We move on to other topics including leadership, what’s important for new pastors beginning in a call, and more.

As part of my work with VST on their field education program, I’ve argued that the seminary and its denominational partners should be intentional about placing students in “flourishing congregations.” Hence, Richard’s question.

I don’t think that “flourishing” necessarily means “large” or “growing.” There are lots of ways to flourish, lots of forms that flourishing congregations may take. But you can tell the difference between a congregation that has some life and energy and those that are drifting or moribund. My argument is that we need to try to identify the former and get students into such settings for their field work.

Watching the interview I am a little abashed about how talkative I am. I like to think of myself as a good listener, and someone who listens before they speak. Not here. But the format of an interview on Zoom/ You Tube doesn’t invite reflective silences or meditative pauses. So there you go.

As I try to convey, I have great respect for Richard Topping and his leadership at VST. It is a flourishing seminary, which is an exception to the rule among mainline schools.

Hope you enjoy the interview.

Let me append a note here about something else you might be interested in. Last year I was honored to be the inaugural speaker in a new lecture series put on by Desert Garden UCC in Sun City, Arizona. The second lecture in that series is coming up, with registration for the on-line event opening on September 9.

Here’s the info:

We invite you to participate in this year’s Sawitski Memorial Lecture via a free webinar on October 9 from 10 a.m. to noon. (PDT) The Rev. Dr. Joretta Marshall will address The Hard Work and Challenge of Forgiveness followed by a Q and A segment. Dr. Marshall, is recently retired as Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counseling at Brite Divinity School, where she also served as academic dean between 2012 and 2019. She is the author of How Can I Forgive? and co-editor with Marie Fortune of Forgiveness and Abuse: Jewish and Christian Reflections.

You can register by going to the website of Desert Garden UCC here.


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