Bringing the Fattened Calf: How the “Beautiful Orthodoxy” Conference 
Is Reminding the PCA How to Feast
By Zoe S. Erler
Beautiful orthodoxy

A few years ago PCA Pastor James Kessler noticed a concerning trend. Nearly all PCA gatherings he attended, including session meetings, presbytery meetings, and General Assembly, focused on contentious issues. 

“When something that is distinctly PCA gathers, it’s typically for concern or revolving around a particular issue. What does this do to us as a denomination?” asked Kessler, pastor at New City Presbyterian Church in Hilliard, Ohio.

Kessler began considering Jesus’ frequent references to feasting and rejoicing in the Gospel of Luke, and noticed that he and his fellow teaching and ruling elders did very little of either when they gathered. Had the desire to remain biblically faithful drowned out the biblical mandate to celebrate?

“We love orthodoxy. No one’s going to be more orthodox than me,” Kessler admits. “But there’s also a love for beauty. Jesus gives us an orthodoxy that is defined by a man going on a long journey and coming home and being embraced by his father … our orthodoxy is defined by these pictures of love, redemption, and joy.”

Finding a New Focus

Through conversations with others, like Ray Cortese of Seven Rivers Church in Lecanto, Florida, and Joshua Reitano of New City Presbyterian in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kessler began asking a new question: “How do we live in a way that’s good, God-glorifying, and healthy, in this denomination?” 

Kessler is seeing lonely, tired ministry workers come together, not as victims of burnout, but as victors with Jesus.

Kessler, Cortese, and Reitano began looking around at their fellow pastors, wondering if others felt the heavy burdens they felt — shouldering the weight of their congregations while encouraging the continuation of orthodoxy across the denomination — and also doubting that anyone even enjoyed getting together. 

A few years ago, Kessler, along with Cortese and Reitano, began envisioning a gathering of PCA people that would focus exclusively on celebrating the victories of Christ in His Church. The result was the first Beautiful Orthodoxy conference in Cincinnati in 2018. The conference featured worship, little-known speakers proclaiming the accomplishments of Christ through His people, and testimonies from quiet, hardworking types. 

“Let’s look in the corners where we don’t often see what people are doing and anonymously toiling,” said Kessler. “God is bringing a beautifully orthodox church out of it.” 

Since the first conference more than three years ago, Kessler says he’s noticed a subtle shift. People on the margins of the denomination are starting to get more involved, and conversations are shifting from “How are we going to win these battles?” to “How are we going to exist as a beautifully orthodox church?”

He is seeing lonely, tired ministry workers come together, not as victims of burnout, but as victors with Jesus. 

While no conferences took place in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, 2022 will bring the third annual Beautiful Orthodoxy conference to New Orleans, February 8-10. 

The upcoming conference will explore stories of racial reconciliation, how to foster the teaching gifts of women while upholding male eldership, ministering the gospel in a post-Christian culture, and extending biblical hospitality.

“I look at the faces of the people who are involved this year and think, yeah, that’s a denomination I want to belong to.

“It’s one I want my children to belong to, too,” says Kessler.   

To learn more about the 2022 Beautiful Orthodoxy conference or to register, visit

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