ACU Summit 2020 a Virtual Experience

ACU’s Summit 2020 will be a virtual experience this year. All sessions are free and can be accessed through the Summit website, David Wray and Leah Andrews, co-directors of Summit, recommend completing the free registration on the Summit website. Although not required, registration will ensure that you receive email reminders and all links to participate in Summit. A complete schedule of all theme sessions and Pathways, plus speaker bios, can be found on the Summit website. 


ACU’s annual Summit will have a different look and feel this year as university leaders made the decision to go totally virtual, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc this year with events and schedules worldwide.

University leaders at first discussed a hybrid event, with both virtual and on-campus presentations but decided not to risk spreading the disease on campus or among the several thousand visitors who annually attend. Even though the fellowship, meal-sharing, exhibit hall filled with vendor booths, live entertainment, and relationship-building will be absent, the virtual presentation does have at least one advantage, said David Wray, Summit co-director along with Leah Andrews.

“It helps us be a lot more diverse,” Wray said.

For example, each day’s worship during the theme sessions will feature prayer leaders from countries as diverse as Africa, Australia and Latin America. Also, people from all over the United States or the world can be theme or Pathway speakers, thanks to technology. (Read more about how religion professor David Kneip coordinated the worship sessions featuring people from several country saying prayers.)

Every year since its founding in 1906–except for 1946–Abilene Christian University has brought several thousand guests to town for Summit, which originally was known as Bible Lectureship. Those out-of-town guests fill hotels and restaurants, buy gas for their cars, and spend money in local businesses. Nanci Liles, executive director of the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Summit makes a $234,500 economic impact on the city. That won’t happen this year, but Summit will go on.

Theme for the 114th Summit is “Blessed are the Peacemakers: Bridging the Divides.” Twelve Pathways will examine peacemaking in the midst of divides such as racial, political, socioeconomic, religious, and gender. All events are free. Registration is not required, but strongly recommended in order to receive email reminders with links to events. Or, just peruse the website and click on a link. 

“A person can participate in any of the Zoom Webinars or worship times,” Wray said, “by going to the Summit website to find a link that will allow them to view the event.”

In a welcoming video posted on the Summit website, ACU President Phil Schubert noted that since 1906, Summit or Bible Lectureship had survived the Great Depression, two pandemics, and two world wars. This year’s Summit was never in danger of not happening, but it took some creative minds, coupled with university resources, to make it happen. 

University leaders had been looking into ways for several years to reach more people than just the ones who come to Abilene. Online views on social media and websites already were reaching thousands more people than could attend in-person, said Leah Andrews, Summit co-director.

“We felt like we were standing on the threshold, peeking in on what ‘could be’ in the world of a virtual Summit,” Andrews said. “The virus and resulting restrictions sort of hard-shoved us over that threshold.”

The move to a totally virtual Summit means changes to the format and scheduling. Instead of day-long classes on campus, one theme session and several Pathways will be held online each day, Sept. 21-23. All presentations will be archived for future access. 

The first theme session, “Old Dreams and New Visions,” will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20. It is the only event scheduled for opening day. Speaker will be Ian Nickerson, minister at Minda Street Church of Christ. Theme sessions Monday through Wednesday will begin at 11 a.m. 

Ian Nickerson

Five Pathways will be presented Monday-Wednesday, Sept. 21-23, with the other seven spaced out through the week of Nov. 9. Most will be presented as a Zoom Webinar. An added feature of the Pathways will be an electronic guidebook designed with Adobe Digital Publishing. The guidebook for each Pathway will feature the speakers, embedded videos, schedules, and additional materials.

“The electronic book has an unbelievable amount of resources,” which could also be used by churches as an adult curriculum, Wray said. 

One of the Pathways to be presented Monday, Sept. 21 is “Peacemaking on the Southern Border,” with Daniel Garcia, Monty Lynn, Kenny Jones, and Robert Green serving as hosts. Special features of the Pathway will be a film, “The Stranger,” which can be accessed online and an art exhibit, “El Sueno American–The American Dream,” by fine art photographer Tom Kiefer. 

The exhibit can be view online or in person in the Brown Library at ACU Sept. 20-Oct. 20. The project features the personal belongings of people who were apprehended in the desert by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The belongings were confiscated and subsequently discarded as people  were processed at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in southern Arizona.”

Pathways will cover a variety of topics, such as creation care, the Muslim and Christian divide, conflict, family crises, and restorative justice. 

One Pathway, “Hispanic Perspectives: Casting a Vision for Peacemaking Ministry,” will be presented in English on Sept. 23 and in Spanish sometime to be announced in October. That presentation will feature Steve Austin and J. Omar Palafox. Austin is the founding director of the Texas International Bible Institute, which trains men and women of Latin America in biblical text and ministry, in Spanish. Palafox is a Mexican missionary from Guadalajara. He earned a master of divinity degree from ACU’s Graduate School of Theology. 

The theme session at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 21, is one that Wray, Summit co-director, is especially pleased about. Jessica Goudeau of Austin will speak on “No Justice, No Peace.” Goudeau is the daughter of Jeanene Reese, retired ACU associate professor of Bible and now an adjunct professor, and Jack Reese, former ACU religion professor. 

Jessica Goudeau

Goudeau, who holds a doctorate in literature from the University of Texas, is author of a new book, “After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America.” Goudeau has spent more than a decade working with refugees in Austin and is the co-founder of Hill Tribers, a nonprofit that provided supplemental income for Burmese refugee artisans for seven years. Her book was published by Viking Press and Goudeau will be involved in a virtual book tour the week of Sept. 21. 

The New York Times Book Review gave “After the Last Border” a rave review:

“Simply brilliant, both in its granular storytelling and its enormous compassion” –The New York Times Book Review

When Summit concludes, ACU will conduct a survey to see how people responded. David Wray, co-director, knows from personal experience how difficult it can be to teach, lead sessions, and minister to people online. He taught an online graduate course over the summer and is an elder at Highland Church of Christ.

“It’s really hard to pastor on Zoom,” he said. “It’s been very different.”

Even so, Wray and other ACU leaders are expecting to hear some positive feedback from the first-ever virtual Summit because of its worldwide accessibility. People all over the world will be able to tune in to the sessions in real time or anytime that’s convenient. Once the pandemic is over, Wray expects that future Summits will be a hybrid of virtual and in-person.

One comment

  • Thank you, ACU and Summit Directors. You are very generous to provide this opportunity to all of us. I am grateful for the virtual world but long for the physical one to return soon!


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