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Congregational Development to embark on international, ecumenical gathering

By Daphne Mack

Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland, New Zealand  

[Episcopal News Service]  Church growth, leadership, and welcoming newcomers are some of the topics set for discussion at the first ever international and ecumenical seminar sponsored by the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia and the Episcopal Church's Office of Congregational Development.

"Bringing Christ to the Post-Christian World" will run from February 14-17, 2007 at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland, New Zealand.

Enrollment for the four-day "once in a lifetime seminar" is open to registrants from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the U.S.

"This [gathering] is a morph of Congregational Development's 'Start Up! Start Over' (SUSO) seminar which focuses on church growth and the 'Upward Bound: Leading Congregations through Change, Decisions, and Conflict' seminar, which is designed for the primary clergy leader to heighten self-awareness and skills required to lead congregations in times of change, transition and conflict," said Sally Dresser O'Brien, vice president of the Episcopal Church Building Fund (ECBF) and seminar co-coordinator.

O'Brien said discussions with Archbishop David Moxon in planning this event revealed common areas of concern such as "church decline and growth and how the culture impacts on how we speak to unchurched people and invite them."

The seminar presenters include the Rev. Jeunée Cunningham, vicar, St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia; the Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes, senior pastor, Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ, Scottsdale, Arizona; the Rev. Charles N. Fulton, III, director, Congregational Development and president, ECBF, New York City; the Rev. Dr. George Martin, consultant, Rosemount, Minnesota; Lydia Ruffin, artistic director, Art and Soul Café, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, Missouri, the Rev. Dr. Tex Sample, coordinator, Network for the Study of U.S. Lifestyles, Avondale, Arizona and the Rev. Suzanne E. Watson, staff officer, Congregational Development, Small Church Focus, New York City.

This ecumenical team of clergy and laity, whose expertise is congregational health and leadership development, draws from years of experience presenting Congregational Development seminars. While their experience is based primarily on work in the U.S., the sessions have international relevance and applicability. 

The founding vicar of a successful new church start, Cunningham served on the steering committee for the national "Plant My Church" conference, and on former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold's Consultation on New Church Development. She presents on issues related to welcoming guests and new member incorporation at the SUSO seminars.

Elnes is a biblical scholar. His 300-member church offers both a traditional worship experience and an innovative multi-sensory worship experience that draws on the arts and technology in ways that transcend classification. He is a frequent speaker on issues relating to the Bible, worship, modern life, and multi-sensory worship.

Fulton is trained in architecture. He formulated an understanding of how buildings can be tools for evangelism, and created a provocative analysis of the ways we gather people for work and worship in the church. He has also designed the liturgical space at two national General Conventions.

Demonstrating the tremendous possibilities that every church has for inviting more people into the community of faith, Martin is a successful new church planter. He grew his congregation from one family to an average attendance of over 300 in the 14 years he served as pastor.

He also founded and served as executive director of the Church Ad Project. He will bring his interest in evangelism and marketing to the New Zealand seminar.

Ruffin directs the musical component of the Congregational Development seminars. Her ministry is an outreach to both Christian and unchurched seekers of faith in a non-traditional format.

The author of eight books on church in the current culture, Sample is a specialist in the study of blue collar and poor people. He offers different approaches to understanding experiences in the world through God's story.

Watson works with congregations averaging Sunday attendance of fewer than 70 people. She served as a priest at St. Francis Co-operating Parish in Hamilton, New Zealand, a multi-denominational parish formed when three congregations (Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist) merged while simultaneously clustering with two other rural parishes.

As an expression of their commitment to sharing their work and passion, the presenting team is offering their time and expertise at no cost and the Episcopal Church is covering the cost of bringing the team to Aotearoa/New Zealand.  The Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia is providing their on-site hospitality and is underwriting the meeting coordination costs.

The first three days of the seminar will address the concerns of leaders in parishes, diocese, and judicatories. Fulton, Sample and Elnes will present. Each presentation will be followed by an open discussion about the cultural relevancy. O'Brien said a seminar size of 80 will be maintained to allow for this verbal exchange.

The fourth and final day is "Laity and Clergy Festival Day." Designed for the full parish membership, participants will be offered a wide variety of workshops addressing aspects of congregational growth and vitality, including advertising, new member incorporation, space and buildings, music as well as aspects of key presentations made during the first three days of the seminar.

For registration and accommodations click here.

For questions regarding registration, and seminar content, contact O'Brien at or call 212.716.6003.

For questions regarding local logistics, payment, refunds and late enrollments, email Valarie Langley at or call 07-838-2309.

The deadline for registration is January 29, 2007.