Past Events & Activities

The future is arguably brightest for those that can re-imagine part-time pastorates 
as signs of emergent opportunities, not emblems of failure and imminent death.
— G. Jeffery MacDonald

Growing by Half: Part-time Pastor, Full-time Church

Glass half-empty, or glass half-full? As many churches face shrinking resources, and shift from full-time to part-time paid leadership, do we see them as markers of failure or signs of emergent opportunities? Convocation 2018 will name what’s been lost – reflecting on the implications of fewer opportunities for congregations to be led by full-time, ordained clergy. But our priority is to share what’s been found – learning about congregations experiencing heightened vitality through part-time pastoral leadership. Lay leaders and pastors in part-time settings will share how their communities are re-imagining once familiar roles, and how they are seeing creative energies being unleashed for vital ministries. Workshops will offer deeper dives into mindset, method, and motivation to help release your community’s potential.

A collaboration of the Maine Conference UCC and The BTS Center

Important Event Details

Date:  1:30 pm on Friday, April 20 to noon on Sunday, April 22.

Location:  “Growing by Half” will be held at two locations in Portland, Maine:

  • Friday (4/20) we are at The Mariner’s Church Banquet Center, in the heart of the Old Port.
  • Saturday (4/21) we will gather for presentations and workshops at the Southern Maine Community College campus in South Portland.
  • Sunday morning we are back at The Mariner’s Church Banquet Center for the final plenary session and closing worship — we encourage you to stay for a culminating conversation and worship with other event participants. We hope you will want to plan ahead, and “practice what we are preaching” at this year’s Convocation by sharing all the work of being church. We’d love for this weekend to be a time apart for those who are the primary worship leaders, including lay persons.

Registration Fee:  Registration cost is lower this year, as we know there will likely be a parking expense for many on Friday and Sunday. To help keep your cost manageable, evening meals will be on your own. Given the plentiful dining options close by, you will decide about menu and budget for your meals. Lunch is provided on Saturday (please note April 9 deadline to guarantee lunch selection).

Early Bird registration fee of $80 ended on March 30 and regular admission of $95 ended on April, 20, 2018.

Convocation 2018 Keynote Presenter:

The Rev. G. Jeffery MacDonald is an award-winning journalist and the author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul. He is also the pastor of First Parish Church of Newbury, UCC in Newbury, Massachusetts. The BTS Center awarded Jeff a 2016 Innovation Incubator Compass Grant to support his research on vitality in churches with part-time clergy.

 Click here to view the schedule for the Convocation 2018.

→ Click here to learn more about our presenters.

 Click here for nearby hotel and dining information.


A creative immersion in the biblical story of Paul in order to make meaning of, imagine new possibilities for, and be transformed by the changes that are challenging and changing you.


Paul’s experience on the Damascus road invites us to explore the tension in the simultaneous experience of radical discontinuity and continuity with one’s past. His story offers biblical wisdom for discerning purpose and for discovering ways to live faithfully to that purpose.


Paul’s retreat to Arabia invites us to consider a “discourse correction,” to consider how to read our sacred texts anew and to creatively reinterpret them, to recast our stories and histories in the light of transforming experiences, and to speak the deep truths of faith in ways recognizable to people today.


Paul’s letters to his churches, rich in rhetoric and style, were potent means of communication, and invite us to consider how their modern day analogs—social media and technology—can be employed in equally powerful ways to nurture communities and sustain the life of the spirit. 


Held at Andover Newton Theological School

Church buildings: For almost 400 years, they have served as sanctuaries and public markers of place, anchoring town squares across America and fostering the nation’s spiritual development. Perhaps because so many of our churches – especially in the Northeast – are historic, we admire them and hold them close. They not only help us feel connected to God, but also remind us of our spiritual ancestors.  We rightfully see our churches as beautiful, and significant, and important.

But they also may be old – and too big for a congregation’s current needs. Because so many New England churches were constructed long ago, in a different era – when worshiping congregations were larger and infrastructure wasn’t so expensive to maintain – we may find ourselves wondering whether/how they can serve contemporary spiritual needs.

In this 9-hour workshop, which will take place at Andover Newton Theological School and be led by the Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, participants will explore the following questions:
  • What are sacred sites for? To what extent are they real estate, and to what extent are they potter’s clay?  If they are both, how do we steward them?
  • What should we be doing with our beautiful, expensive buildings?
  • What are best practices for re-positioning them as the needs of ministry change?
  • What constitutes “deferred maintenance” – spiritually, organizationally, and materially?
  • Are our buildings assets, deficits, or both?


  • Free
  • 4 – 6 PM
  • The BTS Center
  • 97 India Street, Portland, Maine

All are cordially invited to the opening of The BTS Center’s new art exhibit, which will feature work by Raphael Gribetz (

About the Artist

Originally from New York City, Raphael has lived and worked in Presque Isle, Maine for over 30 years. His art involves primarily painting and sculpture. He earned an MFA from The City University of New York and for many years was the spiritual leader of the Aroostook Hebrew Community in Presque Isle. The themes of his art revolve around questions about spirituality, beauty, and the dilemmas of being human.

About the Installation

Raphael says this about “The Search for Truth”:

“The work you see at this exhibit was all created in the two years since my beloved wife Nilda, of blessed memory, passed away. Grief’s magnitude and the capacity to sustain myself through the torrents of grief are central themes in this exhibit. The powerful intensity of my grieving was devastating to my capacity to withstand wave after wave of intense weeping. Only through the amazing grace of God was I able to endure the unending storm of grief. In my new awareness of God’s grace, I find myself pursuing God. “God, where are you?” I ask. It is my hope that in viewing this exhibit, you may see my quest to grow nearer to God, to love God, to cherish God’s compassion, and to be blessed in the capacity to search.”


When the apostle Paul is confronted with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, he is rendered blind by a brilliant light from heaven. The storyteller reports that although Paul’s eyes were open, “he saw nothing” (Acts 9:8). For those of us facing forceful disruptions to the stories of our lives, this is a palpably familiar experience. With eyes we know are open, we look out at our families, our work or our churches, at our communities or our nation—sometimes at our very selves—with a confused and uncomprehending gaze.  Known features become oddly unrecognizable and we simply cannot see how the stories will continue to unfold.

This was true for Paul, too, and his story has the power to brilliantly illuminate our own spiritual narratives. Tradition celebrates Paul’s story as one of conversion, clarity, and conviction, but that is really to read only the story’s epilogue. Its middle chapters are more complex—and much closer to our own personal and communal stories than we might imagine: radical ruptures with the past; disorientation, loss, and grief; an urgent need to make sense of things that no longer make sense; the struggle to find words with which to speak newly comprehended truths. read more

In this course, we will plumb the story’s wisdom for those times when, like Paul, we experience changes on the roads we are traveling, to the stories we’ve been telling, and in the communities to which we belong. We will generate our best responses to the experience of dislocation that often accompanies radical disruptions in our lives, open ourselves—faithfully—to the hope and promise within our transformations, and equip ourselves to be companions and guides to others in their times of change.

Here is what you can expect to experience, learn, and accomplish in this class:

  • an intensive biblical/exegetical study of selected portions of the book of Acts and Paul’s letters
  • the formation of biblical and theological frames for your experiences of change and discontinuity
  • guided analyses, using the biblical texts and others as interpretive keys, of the change circumstances facing your churches and faith communities
  • the opportunity to create a sermon series, blog series, teaching unit, retreat plan, or the like – your uniquely generative response – with which to lead others through individual and communal experiences of disruption and change



“And though his eyes were open, he could see nothing” (Acts 9:8)

For those of us facing forceful disruptions to the stories of our lives, this is a palpably familiar experience. With eyes we know are open, we look out at our families, our work or our churches, at our communities or our nation—sometimes at our very selves—with a confused and uncomprehending gaze.  Known features become oddly unrecognizable and we simply cannot see how the stories will continue to unfold.

This was true for the apostle Paul on the Damascus Road, whose story brilliantly illuminates our own spiritual narratives. Tradition celebrates Paul’s story as one of conversion, clarity, and conviction, but that is really to read only the story’s epilogue. Its middle chapters are more complex—and much closer to our own personal and communal stories than we might imagine: radical ruptures with the past; disorientation, loss, and grief; an urgent need to make sense of things that no longer make sense; the struggle to find words with which to speak newly comprehended truths. 

At this year’s convocation, you will be:

  • invited to find yourself in the complexities of Paul’s story.

  • equipped to respond to radical disruptions and to accompany others in times of disorientation and loss.

  • guided in reinterpreting the sacred text of your life and expressing the truths discovered in the midst of change.

  • encouraged to discern your own course corrections when the way ahead is not clear.

  • challenged to look bravely, with others, into the blinding light of transformational change.


  • Date: Friday, September 23rd
  • Time: 7 – 9 PM
  • Location: Portland Campus of the University of New England
  • Intended Audience: This session is designed for the general public, including faith leaders. It will showcase presentations by Lianne Simon and Dr. Megan DeFranza and include plenty of time for questions and answers.

Every time the Olympics roll around, the topic of sex testing resurfaces, reminding us that biology is more complicated than the pink and blue boxes on our birth certificates. In an instant, what is most personal becomes public and political. But debates over biological sex are leaking beyond the world of sport into our schools, public bathrooms, and even our religious communities. Come and hear Lianne Simon share her story of growing up intersex – in a body that could not be categorized as clearly male or clearly female. Listen to how faith saved her life only to set her on a path challenging the very faith tradition she holds so dear. Join her conversation with Dr. Megan DeFranza, a theologian and scholar studying how different religions make sense of the complexity of sex. Learn how our assumptions have the power to shape and reshape politics, religion, medicine, and our understanding of our very selves.


Sex diversity is nothing new under the sun. Ancient Jews and Christians were more familiar with Differences of Sex Development (DSDs) than most Americans today. Join Megan DeFranza and Lianne Simon for a workshop discussing sex diversity in the Bible and Christian history. Think together with other lay and ordained faith leaders about ways to make our communities more welcoming, safe spaces for all God’s children.


Spiritual Stories for a Wired World_web

“Spiritual Stories for a Wired World” is an online learning opportunity with Dr. Elizabeth Drescher – Santa Clara University professor, author, consulting scholar for The BTS Center, and co-editor of Bearings: Navigating Life-as-Ministry. The course will help faith leaders develop more resonant and engaging public voices through blogs, local news outlets, social media, and other communication platforms.

Drescher is the author of three books, including Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones. Her writing has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Religion Dispatches, Sojourners, The Christian Century, and many other national outlets. In this course, she will guide participants through the process of developing engaging religion and spirituality stories for general audiences, identifying appropriate outlets for publication, effectively pitching stories to editors, and promoting stories to develop a wider audience.

The course will include four interactive online sessions with Dr. Drescher and special guests, weekly online discussions among participants, workshopping of potential story ideas, and feedback on a completed story with suggested publication outlets. Participants may also be invited to publish a story on the multiple award-winning Bearings blog.

Registration is limited to 15 participants.
Dates: September 15 – November 17

  • $275 for Early Bird Registration (before September 1st)
  • $300 for Regular Registration (September 1st and after)


We look forward to hosting one of our favorite singers for an intimate show at The BTS Center. Enjoy an evening with friends, listening to Heatherlyn’s soulful voice through her thoughtful songs, stories, and poetry.

This is a family-friendly show. Although they are not mandatory, RSVPs are requested, so that we may plan for the appropriate amount of food.

For a listening preview, click here.



convo2016_banner_smallMonday, January 25th: Convocation begins at 1:30 PM.

  • There will be an afternoon session and an after-dinner session. When you register, you will have the chance to purchase a $25 ticket for the catered Convocation Dinner. This meal will serve mainly as a social opportunity for personal networking and relationship building. After dinner, all of us — those who choose to attend Convocation Dinner and those who eat on their own — will re-convene for an evening session led by Troy. It will conclude at approximately 9 PM.
  • Tuesday, January 26th: The event will wrap up at around 4 PM.
    • There will be a morning session and an afternoon session. When you register for Convocation, you will have an opportunity to buy a $15 ticket for a catered lunch. Alternatively, you may choose to eat on your own.

Design Thinking and Mindfulness have taken the business and social sectors by storm. From making an iPhone, to designing worship, to renovating your kid’s bedroom, design thinking lays out the process of moving from dream to deliverable. But you can work a process and fail to be present, which is where mindful contemplation comes in. There are specific habits that can equip creative individuals from all sectors of the community to more mindfully engage the creative process.

Come join a two-day experience of learning best practices for the design process: from dreaming, to doing, to listening, to resting. Learn what makes some individuals and organizations successfully engage in the transformation of their immediate communities, while others work tirelessly without any noticeable change. And take time to observe your own creative process and the creative presence of the Holy in your own life.

At Convocation 2016, pastor-artist and author Troy Bronsink will lead activities and conversations that get you out of your seat and encourage you to move—into your community as well as that interior landscape where your truest calling emerges. The gathering will feature local artists and community leaders, who will share how they sustain their individual and collective works.

Convocation participants will gain:

  • A working practical theology of design thinking
  • A framework for collaborative project management
  • Experience with at least three forms of contemplative prayer
  • New networks and relationships with fellow creatives and leaders
  • The benefits of a retreat-shaped rest that includes worship, learning, and play

Troy Bronsink is an author, musician, and retreat leader who works at the intersection of creativity and spirituality, where inspiration thrives. As a consultant specializing in the areas of contemplation and innovation, he works with nonprofits, design agencies, artists, activists and faith leaders. A PC(USA) minister, Troy holds an MDiv from Columbia Theological Seminary and is a leader within the emerging church. He is the author of Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers and currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he directs The Hive: A Center for Contemplation, Art, and Action.


This past January, keynote speaker Eric Elnes wowed participants at Convocation 2015. Unfortunately, many folks who signed up for Convocation ended up being unable to attend, due to a blizzard that slammed Northern New England. If you missed Convocation, or would like to spend some additional time with Eric, we’ve got good news for you. To celebrate the release of Eric’s new book, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), The BTS Center is bringing him back to Maine.
We cordially invite you to join us for an evening of conversation with Eric about journeying through the Dark Wood.  Details are as follows:
  • Date: Tuesday, October 6
  • Time: 7 PM
  • Location: The BTS Center (97 India Street; Portland, ME)
  • Cost: Free
  • Books will be available and light refreshments will be served
  • Although RSVPS are not mandatory, an approximate headcount will be useful for food planning purposes
  • Please let us know that you plan to attend this event by clicking here

Dark_Wood_October copy



“If I do this, then God will do that.”
Sound familiar? Often we approach our relationship with God assuming that we have to act and speak a certain way for God to work in our lives. Yet throughout the Bible, we see God showing us that God is constantly present. We don’t need to summon God or say certain prayers to draw God near. In his new book, Flipped: The Provocative Truth That Changes Everything We Know About God, author Doug Pagitt asksHow would your life change if you changed the way you understood God’s nearness?

Here at The BTS Center, we have gotten to know Doug—who is not only an author, but also a pastor (of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis), a convener, a runner, and a self-proclaimed “goodness conspirator” and “possibility evangelist”—through our mutual engagement with The Convergence Movement, which is “bringing together forward-thinking Catholics, Evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, along with ethnic and peace churches and other willing colleagues, in a growing movement-building collaborative.”

The more we’ve come to know Doug, the more we’ve come to admire his sense of humor, conviviality, casual leadership style, and deep love of God. We’re proud to call him a friend and to have the chance to bring him to Maine and introduce him to you.

And the best part of it all is that Doug isn’t coming to Maine alone. Throughout this summer’s Flipped Book Tour, Doug is traveling with his good friend Heatherlyn, an amazing singer-songwriter. Originally from the East Coast of Maine, Heatherlyn has been honored twice as a Midwest Regional Finalist and awarded the Midwest “People’s Choice” of NPR’s Mountain Stage/NewSong Performance Contest. Together, Doug and Heatherlyn are quite a pair, treating audiences to excellent conversation along with thought-provoking, heartfelt music.


Interested in knowing what people like Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and Phyllis Tickle are saying about Flipped? Take a look at these endorsements.

We invite you to meet Doug and Heatherlyn at one or both of the following events.

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

There is no cost to attend either event.


Session InformationLearn to Lead Workshop

  • Date: Saturday, April 18, 2015
  • Time: 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM
  • Place: Woodfords Congregational Church (Portland, ME)
  • Cost: $25, lunch included

Sabbath Hours

This event qualifies for credit in Andover Newton Theological School’s Sabbath Hours continuing education recognition program.

Program Description

Churches know that small groups are key to spiritual formation and vitality in their congregations.  Yet many are floundering for lack of small group leadership, especially when it comes to leading Bible studies. Working together, The BTS Center and The Massachusetts Bible Society want to help you change all that.

Exploring the Bible: The Dickinson Series is a proven Bible study system that even those who know little about the Bible can learn to lead.  But this workshop – to be led by Rev. Anne Robertson, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bible Society – will go beyond just introducing you to that material.

In this six-hour workshop, you will:

  • Learn the basics of leading any small group.
  • Build confidence in leading a Bible study.
  • Understand the difference between teaching and facilitating.
  • Learn how to use Exploring the Bible: The Dickinson Series*
  • Practice the skills you’ve learned.
  • Receive tips on recruiting your first group, even if you are in a small, rural church.
  • Learn how to structure your group for success.
  • Network with others who are learning to lead.
  • Discuss ways to overcome the challenges of difficult personalities and group conflict.

Leading a small group Bible study is easier than you think! The Massachusetts Bible Society’s Exploring the Bible materials are succeeding where prior attempts at Bible study have failed.

*All workshop participants receive a free copy of both the student book and leader’s guide for What Is the Bible?  (The first course of Exploring the Bible: The Dickinson Series)

Note: Completing this workshop qualifies a participant to be a registered group leader for Exploring the Bible: The Dickinson Series.


Convocation 2015 is scheduled for January 26-27, 2015 at the Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland, ME. This Convocation is shaping up to be more retreat than lecture series, but it promises to be a place to find both knowledge and nourishment, to satisfy the hungers and heal the hurts of head and heart.

RevDrEricElnesDr. Eric Elnes will welcome us to the Dark Wood – a place explored, if feared, by the medieval poet Dante, but which generations of Christian mystics and biblical sages point to as one of the surest places to meet God.  As Eric observes, “According to the ancients, you don’t need to be a saint or spiritual master to experience profound awakening and live with God’s presence and guidance. Your greatest assets on the journey may be the very “gifts” you’re seeking to be rid of, such as failure, uncertainty, lostness, and temptation.”

Placing the mythological imagination of the scriptures in conversation with modern ecological and scientific imagination, Elnes will de-mystify the mystics, revealing a hidden fullness within emptiness, strength within failure, virtue within temptation, and clarity that comes from first getting lost in the Dark Wood. Dr. Elnes will close our time drawing on his long experience as a national Christian leader offering important insight into how time spent in the Dark Wood by various Mainline and other denominations has led to a moment pregnant with hope and opportunity, which some are calling The Great Convergence.

Dr. Elnes’ work has been described as “reflecting the heart of a mystic, the soul of a poet, and the mind of a biblical scholar,” who shows us how to “follow the Spirit in an age that is appropriately skeptical of spiritual claims.” This event will be a retreat for anyone, clergy or laity, who feels awkward in their search for God, anyone who seeks to find holiness amidst their holy-mess, and anyone who seeks real, concrete reasons for hope in a Christian landscape that has often seemed bleak or barren.

His upcoming book, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Paths Beyond Religious Certainty That Point the Way Home, will be published by Abingdon Press in January, 2015.

DrMarciaMcFeeDr. Marcia McFee, a nationally-known expert on worship and the arts will weave experiences of the Dark Wood with music, visuals and media throughout the course of the conference — offering mystical, worshipful and imaginative entrance points into our small group discussion and personal journeys through the Dark Wood. She will also bring insight into the beauty of the “liminal” (in-between) places and how our worship can embrace these important rites of passage through times of emptiness, loss, struggle and uncertainty. Dr. McFee is the Curator and Visionary for the Worship Design Studio, an online site for education and inspiration about worship design and teamwork (