Back to the Basics: Pandemic-Weary Souls Strengthened at Winchester Gathering
By Carl Stagner
As pandemic restrictions ease across the country, more and more pastors and lay leaders are rediscovering the simple joys of life otherwise easily taken for granted. When the doors of churches, businesses, and schools closed last year, flexibility quickly became the name of the game. And, though believers everywhere found reason to celebrate the definite work of God in the face of difficulty and tragedy, the strain on ministers was largely a persistent factor. For some, the prospect of gathering again raises many question marks as camp meetings and conferences re-emerge on the calendar. But ahead of Convention 2021 & General Assembly, as well as a variety of other Church of God events, one early-season event—canceled last year, but back on the calendar this year—reminded everyone in attendance just how vital the basics of ministry and life truly are.
Basics like worship and fellowship in close proximity. Foundational doctrines like salvation and sanctification. When the church isn’t together in person, the church tends to remember what it means to be the church. In adversity, the church is reminded of what matters most. But core expressions and expositions of Christianity do matter and, a return to such basics—as happened at First Church of God in Winchester, Kentucky, on the first Monday and Tuesday of May—also reiterates that which matters most.
The gathering, known as Pastors’ Fellowship, annually (except in 2020) attracts pastors and lay leaders from as close as the host church’s backyard to as far away as California. Since 1973, pastors with a common heart’s desire to preach and re-preach, teach and re-teach the distinctive doctrines of the Church of God movement, have made Pastors’ Fellowship a priority for many, not only in the physical gathering in May but throughout the year via printed and online communication, special events, and regional revivals. With pandemic protocols in place at First Church of God this year, those who attended Pastors’ Fellowship 2021 realized with perfect clarity what they had been missing, and how deeply they had missed it.
From the bonus event on Sunday evening—a heritage hymn sing—to the Monday morning conference intriguingly titled “Dangerous Prayers,” to the eight (yes, eight!) sermon sessions over the span of only two days, the Spirit was clearly at work. Strengthening and restoring souls for the ongoing work of ministry was visibly the divine mission accomplished. Jessica Hall, pastor of Beulah Church of God in Eubank, Kentucky, remarks of the experience, “My heart and soul were saturated and invigorated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pastors’ Fellowship this year.” James Childers, pastor of First Church of God in Zanesville, Ohio, adds, “It was an absolute blessing to be a part of Pastors’ Fellowship. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being there.”
Attendees of Pastors’ Fellowship did not regret the efforts they made to be present for the event. The blessing of being together again could not be understated, even as those who joined via Facebook Live also indicated tremendous value in virtual participation. As Convention 2021 & General Assembly appears on the near horizon (in addition to a wide variety of local and regional events), the testimony of pandemic-weary souls strengthened in Winchester reverberates across the Movement in anticipation of what God will accomplish in Denver.
Several registration options, virtual and in-person, are available to the Church of God for the first-ever hybrid Convention 2021 & General Assembly, June 26–29 in Denver, Colorado. Numerous opportunities to feed and water your soul have already been built into the daily schedule. For more information, and to register, visit www.chogconvention.org.
Feature (top) photo: Pastors’ Fellowship 2021 crowd at First Church of God in Winchester, Kentucky. Credit: Jeff Justice.