In troubling times, seeing chaos as opportunity

Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner spoke at the APCE 2017 conference.

M.A.C.E./M.Div. student Marcy Wright shares her reflections on attending the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) 2017 Annual Event in Denver, Colorado.

The 2017 APCE conference in Denver was truly transformative. From the opening worship and plenary to the informative workshops on intergenerational spiritual formation, praying the scriptures during Lent and spiritual autobiography, to the fellowship with colleagues committed to the Christ’s vision in the world, to the closing plenary and worship complete with mass choir and band, there was much to take in as we considered together what the conference theme “God With Us in the Chaos” means for our individual and collective lives as the body of Christ. For three days our meditations on the scripture “Be still and know that I am God” served to nurture, revive and encourage us for our journey with our Lord.

And yet, it wasn’t until that closing plenary, led by Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner, that the theme took on a more personal dimension for me. I had relished the idea of going deeper in my understanding of how God was in fact at work with us—me—during what seems like very tumultuous times. No—they don’t seem like it, they are. Every day we are bombarded with news of new conflicts, old conflicts morphing into catastrophes with our most vulnerable neighbors caught in the cross hairs. We wonder, “Where is the church?”  Well, as Rev. Kershner reminded us, there’s often gloomy news on that front as well—“the church is dying.” “Membership is down.” “The church has too much internal conflict.”  The body designed to partner with God in rescuing folks from chaos was, in fact, itself mired in chaos.

But what Rev. Kershner illuminated for me and others in attendance was instead of seeing the chaos completely in negative terms, lamenting how bad things were—we should see chaos as an opportunity. Instead of viewing chaos as a “churning” of unruly and malevolent forces—we can choose to see the chaos as a churning “ripe with possibility.” The chaos in our world, in our own lives presents us with the chance to renew and re-define and even re-imagine. Maybe it’s the chaos that will birth a new idea, a new ministry, or even new leadership which will breathe new life into our visions and our missions as we do our work for God’s kingdom.

When I am still, I can see that God has been at work within my own life during “chaos.” Even my journey to seminary, while a very positive thing as I finally answered God’s call to ministry, was fraught with conflicts and challenges as I uncoupled myself from one phase of my life to embark on another. There were frustrations and churnings—disorder and confusion—that I thought would cripple me. But in hindsight, I can now see the possibilities and opportunities for learning and fellowship and service that God was opening up for me through that transition. God has been with me throughout and will continue to be as my call takes shape, as my call transforms into many different calls along this journey. This new understanding has led to my own definition of “chaos theory”—where trusting in God and being still enough to allow God to work in our midst transforms any and all chaos into something powerful and full of possibility.