Beyond, the future for generations
Next year’s Torrey topic has yet to be determined, with current planners recouping and regrouping. | Jacob Knopf/ THE CHIMES
Three weeks of anxiety and professional-style interviews passed with excitement and anticipation. Students awaited an email, a phone call, anything to affirm their inclusion into the next planning process of Torrey Memorial Bible Conference.
Looking toward the future
This is the experience of students hired for this year, but the anticipation has only begun for future applicants — hiring for student directors for 2017 Torrey begins in early spring. The entire application-to-payroll process takes less than a month. Intensive planning, research and brainstorming soon follow.
Torrey Conference spiritual formation graduate director Tessa Robertson was instrumental in planning the event this year. While she admits the process offered community life-giving experience, she does not plan on applying for a similar planning position next year.
“I’m giving myself time, because you know once you finish something it’s like, I need a break. But I’m definitely looking into the possibility. There’s a lot more to my job than just Torrey. There’s just more to consider,” Robertson said.
While students have immense responsibility in scheduling and determining the theme for the year, they still operate under the supervision and guidance of faculty members. Associate dean of Spiritual Development Lisa Igram is a member of this overseeing committee.
“Students had been involved all along, but at this point, now four or five years later, we have students run the entire conference. There’s a director, a [graduate] intern who’s a director, and an undergrad intern who’s a director and then coordinators. So they’re hired in the spring to help brainstorm and help figure out the best way to put on the conference,” Igram said.
Intense student involvement
The interesting aspect of student involvement in the conference is a rare opportunity to plan the specific theme of every breakout session. The length of the theme stood out as a bit of a white elephant of this year’s event, but students had reasons beyond to incorporate the plethora of ideas presented.
Many directors did not want the theme to restrict speakers, or pull students away from the central solidarity of common temptations. Often, directors will offer suggestions to speakers on specific topics but will step aside once speech outlining begins. One of the year’s most-loved speakers was undergraduate professor of Bible James Petitfils, who Robertson spoke to personally regarding his speaking subject.
“I presented [Petitfils] with the topic, and I kind of suggested, I said, ‘Could we talk about Jesus and how Jesus meets us there?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ Great. It’s a conversation and it could… go from I want them to be able to do something they’ve already studied, that they’re comfortable with,” Robertson said.
Students hired for the responsibility of planning sessions are also tasked with formulating the theme, though faculty invite keynote speakers before hiring students.
“The students help us quite a bit in crafting and choosing the theme, so we usually bat around several ideas and for some reason this one kind of brought our attention. The idea is that the scriptures talk a lot about us being loved and loving others,” said Todd Pickett, dean of Spiritual Development.
Igram also mentioned the changes to this year’s Torrey held significance through the team’s observations of what students most wanted to hear in future years.
“Our assessment from last year showed that students would already make it a one-day conference for themselves. So the idea that there’s a little less programming,” Igram said. “So even if there are other kinds of pressures that come in, we are always doing what we consider to be best for students’ needs, to make sure they have time to soak in the word of God. Not just going for conference credit. And to what would be best for their spiritual lives.”
In addition to this, according to Igram, student directors plan every breakout session and have an opportunity to invite speakers from around the world to bring different perspectives on the decided topic.
“So the student team actually gets to pull the content down into the ground level where students are actually thinking and feeling. Kind of from that level where they can get that idea,” Igram said. “So if the main topic is worship, what do students need to know that we can provide through breakout sessions or through experiential sites or through prayer rooms programming to help fill out this idea of what we think the main speaker is going to be talking about?”
Undergraduate and graduate directors alike participate and advertise their response assessment survey, hearing back from students on what they liked and disliked about the current year’s conference.
Concerning Torrey’s slow death through its shortening, Robertson affirms the wellness of the conference and the change’s roots in students’ reactions to the assessment from last year.
“My hope is that through assessment and people being disappointed that we can show the university that it’s something of value and it should be three full days,” Robertson said. “We like making notes of things that went well and didn’t go well and things we want to remember for following years.”