NWATD was organized in 1989, at the impetus of Ronald Osborn, Wayne Bryant, and Donald Reisinger. Reisinger was Dean of the Disciples Seminary Foundation. Osborn was the retired Professor of American Church History at the School of Theology in Claremont. Bryant was pastor of First Christian Church of Portland. All three had been members of the Western Association for Theological Discussion (WATD) in Southern California, which drew members from Arizona, Southern California, and Northern California. Osborn also had been a member of the Association of Disciples for Theological Discussion, a national group sponsored by the Division of Higher Education of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). NWATD was envisioned as a place where critical issues for theology and ministry could be explored.
Twenty-one people from the Oregon and Northwest Regions of the Disciples were present for the first meeting, in 1989. All these charter members were pastors (congregational or regional) or college/seminary faculty or staff (some retired). All were Disciples. Of these twenty-one, three remain active in the group.
Since the 1989 meeting, some sixty other persons have been elected to membership. Among them have been pastors serving United Methodist, UCC, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal or ecumenical congregations, as well as faculty serving interdenominational, Lutheran, or catholic schools, or persons serving mission agencies. For the most part, the membership has been white, with some brief membership by persons of color. Attempts have been made over the years to keep a balance in gender in the group, as well as relative membership from the Oregon and Washington. With moves, resignations, and inactivity, the group size at meetings has remained in the mid- to high-twenties.
Meetings of the group typically have followed a single pattern, beginning late Monday afternoon and continuing into Wednesday morning. They would be focused around three to five presentations, with time for formal responses and open discussion. There were brief, relatively informal moments of worship in the evening, as well as when daily sessions begin. An elected chaplain planned and conducted the worship.
Presentations and responses for a given year were selected by the group at the previous year’s meeting, after members in attendance then were given an opportunity to describe a particular interest. As a rule, members were expected to make a presentation every 3-5 years. Newer members might be expected to do a response not long after accepting membership.
The presentations, responses, and open discussion usually were given 1½ hours. Authors had considerable freedom to choose and shape their presentations; more recent ones using various media and more interaction, whereas the earliest ones were primarily written papers that were read to the assembled group. With “theology” defined across a broad spectrum, and papers often bridging several kinds of theology, a preponderance of papers were in what could be called “practical” or “pastoral” theology. Of the 89 or so papers presented, at least 36 (45%) of them fall in this category. Church and culture (incl. social ministry, environmental issues, politics art, literature) was addressed in 16 papers (18%); church or denominational history (incl. ecumenism, biography), 12 (13%); biblical studies, 8 (9%); spiritual disciplines 7 (8%); and theological doctrine, 6 (7%). Occasionally meetings would focus on a single theme (e.g. worship), but for the most part individual authors wrote on what was of particular concern to them at the time.
The conduct of a particular meeting, entrusted each year to a “continuation committee” defined in a document called “Principles and Procedures…,” has been distributed over time among various members of the group. Administrative support (making arrangements with host facilities, producing program materials, etc.) has been provided by staff (active or retired) of the Disciples Seminary Foundation. An archive of program materials and papers from both WATD and NWATD is housed in the library of the Seminary Foundation in Claremont, CA.
Longevity in the group is evidenced by the fact that in addition to the three charter members, who have attended 19, 22, or 23 of the previous 24 meetings, respectively, 7 additional members have attended 10 or more meetings.
January 28, 2013