Aaron and I had made contact via text. He was a friend of a friend who knew I had spare space in my hotel room. Aaron and I split the bill, but he took the bulk of the sleep. On the first night, just before I drifted off, I warned Aaron of my reputation for disruptive flatulence. (Who doesn't have this problem?) Aaron apologized in advance for his disruptive snoring. His claim proved truer than mine: I strained to sleep through the cacophony. Fortunately, while both of us were awake, Aaron and I enjoyed many conversations about theology, pastoral ministry to smaller churches, and partnering with others.
On Friday night Mark and I rode the bus into NYC. The "City Stroll" targeted younger leader, which apparently made room for 36-46 year old, bald men. Mark confided about his tough first year of pastoral ministry. Finding a rhythm and building relationships stretched him. Questions about calling and confidence surfaced. He had recently experienced a breakthrough, which included clarity and renewed energy. When I referred to him the book, Running on Empty, he was quick to jot down the title in his notebook. I always respect a man who travels with a pen and paper.
After disembarking from the bus, a group of seven "young adults" wandered to a pub called the Taproom. I sat across from Brian, who, at the ripe age of 21, was a legitimate "young" leader. Brian shared about his first year of marriage, unconventional Bible training, and expanding taste for IPAs. I devoured his energy while picking at a plate of chicken nachos.
Also at the table with our group was a young married couple. They drank water and ate nothing. So after we left the Taproom, their appetites flared. I accompanied Thomas and Brittany to Shake Shack, only to find it closed. Then we located a restaurant serving Philly Cheese Steaks after midnight. On our walk I learned about Thomas's sports career and call to ministry, Brittany's dysfunctional family and social work (hence the water), and the numerous people they develop in their church. I empathized with Brittany's background, knowing that sometimes the black sheep of the family is the only one that is white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
These divine encounters and newly formed friendships underscore the strength of my Fellowship and its National Conference. It is not a clever or quirky theme (e.g., Flinch (or not); Fellowshift) that draws us together. Biblical relationships unite us. And if they're truly biblical, we make a point to welcome in new people, as well as reconnect with old allies. Sadly, too many of us do far more of the latter than the former. Newcomers sit on the margins... waiting for next years conference... Margins.
We must remember to welcome new people to our table, bus seat, or bedroom (read the context here). For every new acquaintance has a story. But be warned: some of them snore.
*Names have been altered to protect the innocent!