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In land of Disney, workshop boosts church ties, unity

ORLANDO, Fla. – What kind of Mickey Mouse operation are they running here?

That was my first thought upon landing at Orlando International Airport.

(For some reason, my children groaned when I told them that joke.)

I flew to the Sunshine State not to visit Walt Disney World but to connect with fellow Christians.

I was blessed to attend the Spiritual Growth Workshop, a biennial event that for 30 years has helped strengthen ties among Churches of Christ in Florida.

“It’s really helped with the unity of the church,” said workshop director Joe Roberts, former minister for the Orange Avenue Church of Christ in Eustis, Fla. “When you walk down the hallway, you can’t get through because everybody’s hugging everybody.”

Just for fun, I thought I’d share a few “bests” from the recent four-day workshop:

Best pickup line: Actually, there really was no line. But I appreciated Southside Church of Christ deacon Curtis Anderson and his wife, Lorene, picking me up at the airport.

On the ride to the hotel, I enjoyed chatting with Campus Ministry director Lynn Stringfellow and “No Debt, No Sweat!” guru Steve Diggs and his wife, Bonnie.

Best preview of heaven: About 3,000 Christians — white, black and Hispanic — celebrated 30 years of the Spiritual Growth Workshop.

What a beautiful sight to see brothers and sisters of different colors and languages join together in fellowship!

“No, it’s not always been that way,” said Roberts, now minister for the Collegeside Church of Christ in Cookeville, Tenn. “But we do it on purpose.”

 One step that has helped improve diversity: adding leading black ministers to the organizing committee.

Best visitor greeting: I met a number of Christian Chronicle readers at the workshop.

Among them: Terry Chapman, minister for the South Trail Church of Christ in Sarasota, Fla., and Jamie Dunson, a member of the Vero Beach Church of Christ in Florida.

Both joked that they felt compelled to introduce themselves after reading my July column on “Seeing church through eyes of an outsider.”

Best impersonations of former presidents: When attending a workshop or lectureship, I always enjoy perusing the exhibits (and not just to stock up on free candy, gum and ink pens).

In this case, I was intrigued by a listing on the display map for Mike O’Neal and Ken Jones. I decided to stop by and say hello to O’Neal, former president of Oklahoma Christian University, and Jones, former president of Lubbock Christian University. I was curious as to what joint project they were developing.

But when I got to the display, I didn’t recognize the faces: I met a different Mike O’Neal, this one a former NASA employee who preaches part time for the East Orange Church of Christ in Orlando, and a different Ken Jones, this one the counseling and involvement minister for the Melbourne Church of Christ in Florida.

O’Neal wrote a book called “An Angel’s View: Encountering God through the Stories of the Heavenly Hosts.” Jones is the author of “A Prodigal Return,” which recounts his struggle with alcohol and his later work as a counselor.

Best inspirational speaker: Chet McDoniel. No arms? No shoes? Neither is a problem for this brother in Christ. (Read all about him here.)

Best ego boost: I was in line at a hotel deli, paying for chicken fingers and a Diet Coke, when a smiling gentleman approached me.

“You probably get asked this all the time,” he said. “Are you Bobby Ross?”

No, I don’t get asked that all the time. But on the rare occasion that I do, I make sure to enjoy it. Smile.

The gentleman was Orlando B. Thompson Sr., a minister with the Homestead Church of Christ in the Miami area. Paula Harrington wrote a Views piece for the Chronicle last year on a bus from the Homestead church that goes into impoverished neighborhoods of that community and nearby Florida City to take children to Vacation Bible School.

• Best quotes from speakers: “There’s never a bad day on God’s street like there is on Wall Street.” — Wesley Leonard

“I hope we don’t succumb to the temptation to hand our Bibles over to the professionals and let them read it for us.” — Bruce McLarty

“How many times do I care too much what this world thinks and not enough about what God thinks?” — Scott McDowell

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know him who holds the future.” — Al Jackson

“The first century church wasn’t trying to be the first century church. They were trying to be like Jesus.” — Eric Brown

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Inside Story

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