Living God's Story
One of my favorite things to do is to listen to someone's story – to get to know a person better by learning from them what they've experienced, what has shaped them, what drives them. Often hearing their story helps me to make sense of, or bring clarity to, some aspect of my own. Institutions and ministries have stories, too. How they came to be, why they exist, and what they do are all a part of the fabric of their existence. In September, 2013, at The Cove (Billie Graham's Training Center) in Asheville, NC, Ashland Theological Seminary invited a group of friends and partners to hear the ATS story and, at the same time, to consider their own places in God's story.
The Cove is a special place, set in some of God's most amazing handiwork. A peace is evident from the moment one enters the gates. It is a place set apart for those seeking God, and God responds with delight, providing visual beauty in the surroundings and the nicest, most caring staff one could hope to encounter. The Cove was the ideal setting for this gathering.
As the group gathered, many faces were familiar thanks to relationships that span years. Other faces were new, and still – they felt like family, too. A wonderful energy stirred around us – the excitement you feel when seeing friends you've not seen in a while coupled with the anticipation of meeting new people. The ATS story began to unfold through these people. Through the words of each speaker and video recordings of alumni and current students, guests were able to hear tales of God's work in those lives, what brought each individual to ATS, and some specific aspect of their personal ATS stories.
Every session began with a moving time of worship, led by a graduate, the spouse of a graduate, and an employee. This gifted trio unerringly ushered guests into times of incredibly sweet worship, positioning all to enjoy God's presence together, and to rejoice in the unique attention God gives to each individual's story. These stories combine to create the beauty that is the tapestry of Ashland Theological Seminary. People around the world have been, and will continue to be, impacted by the many programs of ATS. Shared through the words of individuals who have participated in them, the programs became more than words in a brochure – they came to life, impacting lives and fulfilling the mission of ATS.
Sessions included powerful messages that challenged listeners to consider their own roles within God’s story. Shared by President Shultz, Vice-President Solomon, Professor Hawk and Associate Professor Sadler-Gerhardt, these messages reminded us to remember God’s faithfulness through the stories in Scripture; to know our identity as ones loved and cared for by God; to trust God when we’re in over our heads. One ATS alum, after hearing Dr. Sadler-Gerhardt share about the counseling students she’s worked with over the years, said “The counseling program was the best church I've ever been a part of. Sometimes we made each other crazy, and we came from lots of different backgrounds, but we shared a common purpose."
The entire retreat took only 4 days, and yet the impact made it feel as though we’d shared so much more time together – and I mean that in the best possible way. All were surprised when our final day dawned. New friendships had begun over meals of delicious food shared in an atmosphere that evoked thoughts of family-in-Christ reunions yet to come. Afternoons were spent exploring the area, learning more about a particular program or individual, and building relationships. Evenings after the sessions were filled with conversation, laughter and fellowship.
Our days together concluded in a powerful and intimate time of prayer and communion – sealing what had been a blessed time with God and brothers and sisters in Christ. These precious people pledged scholarship funds to support the story of the seminary as it will be lived out through future students. Ashland Theological Seminary integrates theological education with Christ-centered transformation as it equips men and women for leadership in the Church and the world – that’s the ATS mission statement. That valuable work doesn’t happen without the support of friends like those who shared four days together in Asheville, NC, and the many, many more whose faithful partnership affirms the legacy of the ATS story.