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Inspiring Love & Justice: Overview From 9/29 UMCRM Community Conversation

29 Sep 2021 8:24 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

One of the 7 Foundations of United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministry is “Inspire & Equip Lives For Love and Justice.” (View all 7 here) This week’s conversation explored the journey from the mountaintop experience of a camp or retreat to sending back into daily life. Our hope is that those who spend time in our temporary communities come away changed by that experience. 

One inspiration comes from the foundational document of our denomination:

The community provides the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity.  We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals.  

– Paragraph 161,The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016 (Social Principles: The Nurturing Community)

Camp and Retreat experiences provide fruitful opportunities for people to gather and to live together for a time. These times of gathering at our centers, dedicated to growth in love, have great potential to inspire guests to embrace life-giving practices and to act more justly and lovingly.

How do we create community through “creative dislocation”?

  • We meet people where they are, then we grow along with them.

  • Community building is a journey or process, so we support groups wherever they are on that path -- they have different needs and abilities on Friday night than they do on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.

  • Community isn’t a “one-off.”

  • “Change of pace, change of place, and change of face”

The Call to Engage the World

The Gospel of Mark recounts disciples’ challenge to integrate the power and thrill of the mountaintop transfiguration into what might come next. They were tempted just to stay up there! Like those disciples, our guests and campers are called to return, changed, to a world that needs them.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. – Mark 9:2-8 

From Year of Plenty by Craig L. Goodwin –

I find that, too often, we frame the formation of Christian community around the idea of escaping everyday life, as if it were the worst of distractions from things of God. It is assumed that God is hidden in the midst of daily necessities but is more available outside of these pressing rhythms. We are invited into the church sanctuary or retreat center to find God. 

But what if we’re mixed up in these assumptions? What if we’ve got it all wrong? What if, in fact, the most fruitful places of spiritual formation and connection with God and community are not in the removed, abstract places, but rather in the midst of the most mundane daily realities? What if God is among us at all times and all things, and the daily rhythms of life are the raw material of spiritual lift?

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, himself struggled with the tension between the dynamics of forming community and the call to engage the world through service.  

For a time John Wesley toyed with the idea of a separated Christian community modeled on early Christian communal living-when "all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common." His comment on Acts 2:45 exclaims wistfully: "It was a natural fruit of that love wherewith each member of the community loved every other as his own soul. And if the whole Christian Church had continued in this spirit, this usage must have continued through all ages." Wesley never quite forsook this dream. And during his last three decades he encouraged "The Community" formed by his followers for social service in London.

Soon after the development of his United Societies in 1739, however, he deliberately set aside any plans to organize Methodist monastics. He maintained in one of his sermons on the Sermon on the Mount that "Christianity is essentially a social religion, and that to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it." He realized that we must come to terms with the society in which we live, with all its faults. 

From “Wesley’s Principles for Social Action” by Frank Baker, Good News, January/February 1985

Does camp and retreat ministries reflect the idea that God and community are in the midst of the most mundane daily realities? 

How do we create camp and retreat experiences that show people how to translate their growth in these “set aside” / “monastic” times, to the society in which we live?

  • Showing radical hospitality

  • Modeling holy practices

    • Embracing diversity, confronting the evil of racism and confessing the sin of white privilege through hiring practices, board composition and guest policies.

    • Practicing good stewardship of the earth through conservation, use of recycled materials, use of renewable sources of energy and use of innovative waste disposal methods (composting toilets, created wetlands).

    • Addressing economic inequality by using fair trade products and educating our guests as to their benefits.

    • Going beyond legal requirements for accessibility by showing real concern for and attention to the needs of ALL guests.

    • Practicing authentic community that truly welcomes the stranger, values all persons, and confronts injustice and oppression.

  • Intentionally talking about Christian living beyond camp

    • Give campers and guests the language to share their experiences. Teach them to talk about camp being more than just “fun”. 

    • Speak about this being a temporary community and ask guests to think about how they can recreate that sense of community somewhere else.

    • Micah 6:8 – He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

    • Our guests will learn the value of ongoing community if they have significant camp and retreat experiences in temporary community.  We can interpret to guest groups that the sense of community or covenant faithfulness that they experience through camps and retreats is also available beyond the bounds of our centers.  Such communities of inspiration and encouragement are major assets to living lives of love, justice, and service.

    • Our own Wesleyan tradition provides a powerful model. As mentioned previously, John Wesley decided against set-apart communal arrangements as being too isolated from the world. The “method” he embraced instead was the class meeting. Small groups meeting on a regular basis to form community through support and accountability was the way that Wesley found for Christians to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” 

Just because we’re sharing these recaps doesn’t mean you should skip Community Conversations! If you’re able to attend, your presence, perspectives, insights, and even your listening and your smile are a key part of our community life. Thanks to all who have been a part of the conversations. The next one will be Monday, October 11th. Hope you’ll join us!

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