ACU Summit 2020 a Virtual Success

* Theme for the 114th Summit was “Blessed are the Peacemakers: Bridging the Divides.” Thirteen interactive digital guidebooks were created to supplement each Pathway. Those guidebooks, with links to videos, can be used as a resource for church and Sunday School curriculum planners. The free guidebooks can be accessed at
* Summit 2020 was in an all-virtual format, but the leadership team is planning for a hybrid Summit 2021, with a combination of on-campus and virtual presentations. Summit 2021 is scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 19, 2021.


Back in May, the Summit planning team at Abilene Christian University began to realize that the 2020 version would be different from past events, which originated in 1906 as Bible Lectureship.

The team, led by Summit co-directors David Wray and Leah Andrews, hoped that Summit, which was scheduled to begin Sept. 20, could something of an experiment, with both on-campus and virtual presentations.

But by June, it was obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic was winning out and that no on-campus events would be feasible. Then the team switched into full virtual mode, drawing on the expertise of faculty and students in departments across campus. Some presentations would go online Sept. 20-23, just as if they were live on campus. Others would be spread out through early November. By the time Summit 2020 ended the week of Nov. 9, the team realized it had been “shoved over the threshold” of virtual presentations and now is looking to the future.

“It’s a new frontier for us,” Andrews said. 

That new frontier holds many promises for future Summits. This year, speakers and worship groups from various countries were able to participate, thanks to technology. That participation will only grow in the future. 

Theme for the 114th Summit was “Blessed are the Peacemakers: Bridging the Divides.” A highlight of the event was the creation of 13 interactive digital guidebooks for the Pathways or themed sessions. Those Pathways examined peacemaking in the midst of divides such as racial, political, socioeconomic, religious, and gender. The free guidebooks, with links to videos, can be used as a curriculum resource in churches.

“We are hoping church leaders will pick these up,” Andrews said. 

Most of the guidebooks are general enough to be appealing to various denominations. Guidebooks can be accessed at They were the creation of Amos Gutierrez, learning technology specialist and Adobe ambassador at ACU or “Adobe Guru” as Andrews calls him. 

The all-virtual version of Summit proved to be a boon to the leadership team. Members had been discussing how to incorporate social media and other technologies in order to reach a larger audience. In years past, Summit or Bible Lectureship, drew several thousand visitors to campus each year, with those guests contributing to the Abilene economy. But in recent years, Andrews said, the number of out-of-town visitors had been dropping, and the idea of making Summit available online either as it was in progress or later, began to take hold.

“It was an idea that had been rolling around for a couple of years,” Andrews said.

Then, in 2019, a light bulb went off. About 1,000 people heard Beverly Ross, founder and executive director of Wise County Christian Counseling in Decatur, speak in Moody Coliseum on campus. But since then, more than 36,000 people have watched her presentation online. The Summit team had to rethink the purpose of Summit–was it to draw a few thousand people to Abilene for the annual event or was it to reach people worldwide? The hope is that in the future, once “COVID-19” is no longer in our vocabulary, Summit will be a combination of both on-campus and virtual events. 

Feedback to the all-virtual Summit 2020 has been positive, Andrews said, but with one common addition, “We sure do miss being together.” Some survey respondents said they were unable to listen to a presentation when it was scheduled but accessed it later.

“I really enjoy listening to them while I’m washing dishes or walking,” was a typical response. 

A lot of prayer, planning, and collaboration went into making the all-virtual Summit 2020 a huge success. With Summit 2020 barely ended, the leadership team already is looking to Summit 2021. No theme has been selected yet, but ideas will be tossed around beginning in December. This time, though, the leadership team will be more confident and less tense than they were back in May and June. Now that the first all-virtual Summit is in the books, team members, led by Andrews and Wray, can even relax and appreciate what they accomplished. 

“It’s been a fun grand experiment,” Andrews said. 

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

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