2012 Gospel & Culture Conference: A Personal Reflection

December 2012
by Joanna Stephens

Wrestling God. The image isn’t an easy one to hold in one’s mind for long, individually or corporately. As believers, we often tend to shy away from God when he challenges us. Yet on November 2-3, nearly 500 people convened at St. Bart’s Cathedral in midtown to dive deep into the implications of that difficult encounter. The Center for Faith & Work’s second annual Gospel & Culture Conference entitled “Wrestling God. Work Re-Imagined”began with participants attending various cultural events throughout the city as “GLIMPSES” of God’s glory and ended with a commission to participate in making his kingdom a reality here on Earth, in the face of struggles and brokenness along the way. 
 
My conference experience began with my GLIMPSE—a performance of Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera Friday night. It’s a story of unrequited love, struggle, perseverance, and ultimately victory through sacrifice, all set to music that portrays these themes with incredible emotional power. Our group came away stunned by the beauty God enabled us to experience through the arts. And yet the conference had just begun, and built intensely on those themes the following day at St. Bart’s. 
 
The next day opened in prayer and a half hour corporate devotional, reading and meditating on the scripture of the weekend: Genesis 27-32, recounting Jacob’s life of struggle and yearning for blessing. Complemented by high choral music soaring overhead, this was one of the most unique and powerful aspects of the conference; before diving head-first into programming and plenaries, it was amazing to sit still together and witness a whole cathedral full of people quietly waiting on God, seeking his Spirit’s wisdom and blessing for the day. 
 
The morning proceeded with talks from Tim Keller and theologian Vincent Bacote about God’s design to bless us in the midst of trials, pointing to Christ’s completed work and the Spirit’s power. This was interspersed with spotlights on various practitioners from both inside and outside the Redeemer community recounting their own experiences wrestling God in their careers. I was amazed at the breadth of sectors represented and appreciated the candor with which the practitioners spoke of their own faith and work struggles. There was something incredibly special about hearing and sharing those hardships together in community and discussing the implications on our own lives during the break-out sessions that followed. It was also wonderful to take these struggles and offer them to God in prayer and worship throughout the day. 
 
Hearing so many inspiring accounts of past wrestling, lessons learned, and continued faith journeys, one final aspect of the conference this particular year was remarkably special. As many know, Redeemer chose to carry on and hold the conference at the scheduled time, five days after Hurricane Sandy. Little known, though, was that CFW Director Katherine Alsdorf’s neighbor is New York City’s Chief Transportation Officer. Accepting an invitation from Katherine for prayer and support, he spoke to us about the storm and the immense toll it took on the city, his team, and himself as a leader. It was inspiring to see someone in the very center of the city’s current struggles, wrestling with how to lead and rebuild with integrity, strength, and perseverance. As applause erupted into a standing ovation, emotions swelled, and the entire congregation was led in prayer for him and his team. In the midst of a conference on wrestling, it felt like an incredible gift from God to share the city’s pain before him and look in hope to Christ and his compassion to renew it. 
 
All told, the conference was a wonderful experience. There was so much to take away, and I have already begun reimagining my own work in light of the teachings and inspirations the weekend gave me. I look forward to CFW’s offerings this year and encourage you to pray for this ministry as it leads our congregations in looking at what it means to wrestle and ultimately rest in the gospel in our work. 


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