Ambrose Pastor's Conference 2018
Madison McBlain is a Bachelor of Theology student majoring in Church Ministry. She is entering her third year at Ambrose and serves as the VP of Spiritual Life on the Ambrose Student Council. She is currently working at Commons Church here in Calgary, where she helps people engage with the community and assists in leading the church through the weekly liturgy.
One of the benefits of attending a Christian university is the opportunity to hear from the wide variety of Christian thinkers and leaders that visit our campus. Last month I had the joy of participating in the Ambrose Pastor’s Conference, an annual conference held here in Calgary to encourage and equip church workers from the surrounding area.
This year’s keynote speaker to the conference was Fleming Rutledge— a pastor and author whose influence has been steadily increasing since the publication of her most recent work, The Crucifixion.
I should admit that before I saw this conference advertised around the school, I had never heard of Rutledge and I had certainly never read any of her work. What I soon found out, however, was that she had been one of the first women to be ordained by the Episcopal Church. Any woman who thrived as a preacher and a leader in the 1970s has to be fairly impressive, so I decided that I had to hear Rutledge speak (this was confirmed when our chaplain managed to get me a student discount to the conference… thank you, Terry).
Rutledge began her first talk by asserting that both the evangelical and mainline churches have been guilty of thinking about the crucifixion in all the wrong ways. It was quite a claim to make to a room full of pastors, but when she explained herself, I think everyone knew exactly what she meant. Rutledge pointed out that too often, preachers dampen the power of the cross because they don’t know how to handle it. In Rutledge’s view, this is deeply irresponsible and does the message of the crucifixion a great injustice. “The cross,” Rutledge declared, “is not simply God showing us how much he loves us… if that were the case, it would be a very odd means of doing so.” Rather, Rutledge insisted that the power of the cross is the fact that in the crucifixion, God is actually doing something.
That was the foundation on which Rutledge continued her argument. She was fascinating to listen to; she brought material she has spent her whole life on to an accessible level, all the while never letting her audience doubt her intelligence. The woman I was sitting beside described her as the truest version of a steel magnolia— a woman who exemplifies traditional femininity and uncommon fortitude all at once.
I love taking notes (I know, such a cool hobby) and when I was reviewing the ones I took during Rutledge’s talk, one thing stood out to me right away. My notes read, “The power of God identifies with all who are cast aside.” That phrase is something I reflected on a lot following the conference. The ways that humans conceive of power have gone so far astray from the power that Rutledge speaks of— power that becomes least, that identifies with the oppressed, and that lays down its life.
It is speakers like Rutledge that I love— those that can take something as complex and often convoluted as the cross and let the truth of the gospel shine clearly through it. Rutledge challenged the way we preach and urged us to press deeper into the meaning of the crucifixion.
I’ve only just started Rutledge’s book, The Crucifixion (28 pages down, 580 to go…) but I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to learn so much from her already. If you’re a ministry student at Ambrose (or future ministry student!) keep an eye out for the Ambrose Pastors Conference in 2019.