BETHANY, WV – Just one more (maybe…) set of comments in response to my time away. A few of you have asked – “If it was a men’s conference, then why were there women there?”
Well, there were over 200 men, and maybe 8-10 women. A few were pastors who wanted to find out more about ministry to men, a few were wives who wanted to be there and help in any way they could, and then there was Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and I’m going to use her presence as the jumping off point for why I believe this conference was hugely important, far beyond the number of “feet on the ground.”
CONTEXT: The picture – above – is from Saturday afternoon and the dedication of the labyrinth. First, let me describe the scene to set the context.
- The building at left is the historic home of Alexander Campbell. Campbell, an early leader in the Second Great Awakening (mid 19th Century), played a key role in the formation of what has become The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He founded Bethany College and his story is a spiritual cornerstone for the “modern” movement of open-hearted, inclusive, invitational Christianity.
- The labyrinth was built as a mission project by the men’s retreat. It sits between the home and Campbell’s study. It, and the accompanying benches, were built with the best possible quality, durability, care, and love.
- Just a couple of hours before the final brick was placed, in impromptu dedication ceremony was organized. General Minister Sharon Watkins was asked to offer some “off the cuff” remarks. Regardless, quite the crowd gathered – in a light rain – for the dedication.It turned out to be one of the most meaningful moments of the weekend.
- To the right, beyond the people, is the town, the college, the world… and the future of the church….
INTERPRETATION: For me, as an objective observer, the scene spoke volumes. The labyrinth, an ancient tool for contemplative and very intentional spiritual formation, stands between the historical roots of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the world Christ commissioned his disciples to reach.
The labyrinth represents something new, while at the same time harkening back to the foundational call for a commitment to spiritual disciplines. Its position, on the site of the Campbell home, shows respect for history while engaging a purposeful commitment to move forward.
EXPERIENCE: Personally, and in part because of my Protestant background, I have not been open to “walking the labyrinth.” I felt it was more “New Age” than Christian, and more “High Church” than my comfort level. Then, one day in North Carolina, I wandered through a labyrinth and discovered the power resident in deliberate, contemplative, prayer. I was taken aback at the potency of walking a simple path.
Later, after one of our youth at FPCBrandon (Shelby Dale) renovated the full-sized labyrinth at Camp CedarKirk, I took my Men’s Room group on a field trip. The experience – again – was remarkable, and some deep spiritual work was accomplished.
CONCLUSION: The Bethany conference,“EXTREME FAITH – BOLD ACTION,”drew the attention of many national leaders because, rather than being an attempt to resuscitate a waning ministry, the event called (calls) Disciples Men to move forward into a Christ-rooted future that respects the past while refusing to spiritualize nostalgia.
Okay, I’m going to repeat that, because I love the phrase I just came up with! Move forward into a Christ-rooted future that respects the past while refusing to spiritualize nostalgia.
So what does it mean to “spiritualize nostalgia?” Well, we’ll talk more about that another day. However, in your hearts, I suspect that you already know….
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
In Christ – DEREK