The following account of our recent SOMA New England Conference, which took place at All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral, February 3-5th, is written by The Rev. Dr. Nathan Baxter, dean of our cathedral. We are thankful for his thoughtful account of what occurred and are hopeful that his highlights and insights on this conference and its implications will move many to further consider the work of the Holy Spirit and His role in God’s work throughout our diocese. Be sure to check out the SOMA photo gallery below! Bishop Bill Murdoch has also written a letter to the diocese regarding this thoughts on SOMA New England and our growing life in the Spirit. If you would like more information on SOMA and other initiatives this great ministry is undergoing, please be sure to visit their website!
Someone has said that the best interpretation of Scripture is lived. Archbishop Ben Kwashi’s life, testimonies, teaching prove that saying to be true. At the SOMA Conference this past February 3-5, around one-hundred of us from around New England experienced the scriptures come alive in the person and teaching of Archbishop Ben. Interweaving personal testimonies of God’s transforming power in his own life and ministry over 40 years, Abp. Ben bore vivid and powerful witness to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. His many stories must be heard, not summarized—so please click on the links to hear for yourself.
The first two sessions were addressed to the clergy who serve in New England. The third and fourth session were addressed to the whole church, who live and minister in New England culture.
Session 1, “Persuaded that Gospel Power Delivers, Heals & Transforms,” was rooted in Acts 1:8. The Holy Spirit comes to give power for witness to the Life of Jesus, the life manifested in real transformation for areas no one else can reach. God would never save us, call us and then abandon us. God is radically committed to us, so we can and must look for and rely upon what only God can give. This will bring us into a “counter-cultural” way of living. Whenever we have “options,” we easily make the Holy Spirit second-class in our lives and ministry. If we desire empowerment for witness, we must yield ourselves and our plans to God’s principles and purposes, led by and fueled by the Holy Spirit.
Session 2, “Pursuing the Obedience of Faith in the Power of the Spirit,” centered on 2 Timothy 1:7, “We are not at liberty to not preach the gospel.” Yet evangelism is rooted in prayer. We must remember this in order to maintain our courage in Gospel witness, particularly the sacrifices of those who have gone before us and the sacrifices we have already made for the sake of the gospel. We must remember the ways God has invested in us and how He has called and saved us. Remembering helps us to “fan into flame” the gifts God and to protect the “fire” from being quenched or dampened. The Spirit will take us to places where we can witness and do things for the good of others, beyond our fears and beyond our natural capacities to think and love.
Session 3, “Gospel Power through the Integrity of Christian Families,” took shape around Colossians 3:12-17. The real forgiveness and deep transformation of the Gospel is central to all our hopes for families. Christians can and must refresh themselves in our identity in Christ. Because we are God’s Chosen Ones, Holy and Beloved—because we are each now a “Kingdom Personality”—we can and must “put on” the daily “clothing” of the Kingdom. Similarly, we can and must “allow” the Peace of God to enter and rule in our hearts. We also can and must “allow”the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts. As we do these things together faithfully, family members find it increasingly easy to relate in Gospel-transformed ways: we forgive and are forgiven; we serve and honor and love one another.
Session 4, “Gospel Power through the Church to the Culture,” expounded the lived reality of Romans 1:16-17. Culture is dynamic. We need to discern, in each culture and time, what the will of God is for his children. The Scriptures are the touchstone for that discernment, especially when the Scriptures are trusted and obeyed. We can and must identify with the Gospel and live unashamed of that Gospel, for it is God’s power of transformation for anyone, anywhere, anytime. This transforming power enables us to discern the ways in which the culture must be resisted and the ways in which the culture is consistent with God’s purposes. The Gospel is not an abstract idea but a lived experience. There is no culture that the Gospel cannot reach and transform, especially as children and young people are transformed by the Gospel and grow up to lead their cultures. The power is in the Gospel by the Spirit, not in us or in our skills or strategies. Our call is to live and proclaim the Gospel and trust in the Spirit’s power, thus bearing fruitful witness to God’s transformation.
Following each session, we had opportunity to respond personally in small groups and in a question and answer session. At the end of each day, we were blessed by the prayer ministry of Archbishop Ben, Bishop Bill, and a team of prayer ministers from around the diocese. I personally came away from this conference encouraged to yield more deeply to the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and direction, challenged to pursue Gospel faithfulness more deeply, and inspired to serve for the long haul, knowing that God will bring the Gospel fruit he has promised in the Scriptures.