Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Connect (5th of 6 parts)

I am continuing the 6-part series on the points I made in my Superintendent's Address in June. Again, these are six things I am deeply passionate about and encourage our pastors, lay people and churches to be serious about them as well. For this fifth installment, I would like to talk about the 6th point I made in the address, because of its relevance to current events in the life of our conference.

The need to connect
Photo Credit: Doug Handlong
Last week, pastors and other professional church workers of the Alaska Conference came together for their annual retreat at beautiful Birchwood Camp. The retreat followed closely on the heels of the New Clergy Orientation which also at the camp.

Photo Credit: Doug Handlong
Doug Handlong, chair of the Professional Ministries Unit who organized the retreat,  led us in a time of deep sharing of joys and concerns ending with a time of praying for one another. Spiritual Director Rebecca Johnson led the group in a guided spiritual reflection about life as a journey. Jim Doepken, our
longest-serving active clergy person, shared a "confession" about his ministry failures and those of the conference. Kelli Williams led a guided meditation in the sweat lodge. Bishop Grant Hagiya led a sharing session about personal concerns and then transitioned into a conversation about making disciples. Two of our youngest clergy, Melissa Engle and Nico Romeijn-Stout led us in communion to close.


Photo Credit: Doug Handlong
One thing was evident to me during our time together: the need to connect. For the second year in a row, the organizers became very intentional in making the schedule not too content-heavy and allow for times of fellowship, reflection and free time. Folks openly shared during the structured sessions. During free times, people hiked the lake together, played board and card games, watched movies, went boating, did service projects around camp or simply huddled around the fire and talked. We all fulfilled our need to connect.

Isolation: our common reality
In varying degrees, isolation is a common reality for us who live in Alaska. This reality is more evident in settings that are not on the road system like Nome, Unalaska, Sitka or Ketchikan. But it is also a reality even in settings connected by roads all across the state, even in Anchorage. The isolation becomes even more pronounced during the dark and cold winters when we are disconnected by the harsh elements. Another factor common to all of us in Alaskat hat adds to the sense of isolation is our physical disconnection from family and friends in the lower 48 and in different parts of the world.

Sharing our story
In my first round of visits to our churches around the state, I observed how disconnected we are from each other. We do not know what is happening in other ministry contexts beyond our own and in many ways, our pastors, lay people and churches feel isolated and disconnected from each other.

I believe that each person and each ministry context has a story to tell, whether it is a burden or a joy. And these stories need to be shared, for we can learn from them and be encouraged by them. I, having the opportunity to travel to our different ministry settings, commit to being one of the channels of sharing these stories.


Photo Credit: Doug Handlong
Connecting through prayer
One of the ways we are now able to connect churches to each other is through the weekly prayer email. Each week, we highlight the prayer concerns or praises of a church or ministry setting in the Alaska conference. These are prayers written and sent to us by their leaders. I have seen church share these prayers in worship, in their weekly bulletins and in their newsletters.

Connecting through other means

There are other ways we can connect. In last week's retreat, the PMU identified mentors to journey with our new clergy. The Anchorage area clergy meet for lunch every first and third Wednesday of the month. They are looking at ways to include others via Skype or FaceTime  The Kenai Peninsula clergy gather once a month.

What are the other ways we can connect? Perhaps the better question to ask is: How are we being intentional about connecting with others in the conference? There are many stories to tell. We need to be intentional about connecting in order to hear these stories and share some of our own.


Recovering a culture of connection

One of the trademarks of the Methodist movement from the time of John Wesley was its connectional system. No Methodist society was left to figure it out on their own. Each group was connected to the others in prayer and support. May we recover this culture of connection that would nurture our relationships across the conference.

Friends, our isolation is real. Our levels of disconnect are real. We need to be more intentional about our connecting with one another.


Your fellow disciple,

Carlo

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