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Learning Retreat Begins at St. Simons Island

United Methodist Communications
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For Immediate Release
May 5, 2014

Learning Retreat Begins at St. Simons Island

The residential bishops’ and general secretaries’ learning retreat began with opening worship led by Dr. Christine Pohl of Asbury Theological Seminary and the Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett of the Oregon-Idaho annual conference.

In her book, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, Dr. Pohl looks at four practices of Christian life: embracing gratitude, making and keeping promises, living truthfully and practicing hospitality. For this first session of the retreat, she focused on the practice of gratitude, which she called the “heart of Christian life.”

“Grace and gratitude are central to our relationship with God,” said Pohl, noting that they are also central to our relationships with each other.  

She talked about some of the things that strengthen gratitude, such as articulating the ways we have been blessed, making more space for gratitude, and becoming better at noting what is good and celebrating it. She also talked about things that weaken it, such as grumbling.

“Gratitude and ingratitude are closely tied to what we notice, and once we start focusing on flaws in a community, they quickly dominate our attention," said Dr. Pohl.

Following Dr. Pohl, Bishop Robert Schnase shared insights from his book Seven Levers: Missional Strategies for Conferences, which describes strategies that have been used successfully in annual conferences.   One example of a “bright spot” is Sikeston First United Methodist Church, which followed the Healthy Church Initiative model and increased their attendance from an average of 310 in 2009 to 590 currently.

The book outlines seven “levers” – things that help us get things done:
•    A Strategy for Starting New Churches
•    A Strategy for Clergy Peer Learning
•    A Strategy for Congregational Intervention
•    A Strategy for Cultivating Clergy Excellence
•    A Strategy for Aligning Budgets and Resources
•    A Strategy for Creating Technically Elegant Governance Systems
•    A Strategy for Reconfiguring Conference Sessions

Bishop Schnase also shared information about organizational systems that are no longer conducive to our mission and why working harder isn't helping:  “the world is flat,” “the giant hairball,” “nonprofits are different,” and “fading relevance” (read more about these here). He also talked about approaches to church leadership that don't help in a time of flux, fluidity and recalibration. 

The bishops spent time in small groups discussing questions posed by Bishop Schnase, such as,"What are the activities that are so critical to your conference's mission that failure to perform them will lead to decline?"

Bishop Schnase says the book is intended to be a catalyst for conversation, to stimulate change, bring focus, to be a source of encouragement, learning and sharing, to provide a language and give hope. 

Following his presentation, Marty Linsky, co-author of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, began a discussion of adaptive leadership by leading the bishops in thinking about the leadership challenges they face.

Linsky noted that there are actually two different conversations related to challenges: one about challenges facing them as the Council and the other about more individualized challenges facing them as they lead their annual conferences.

The attendees spent considerable time in introspection and discussion about their own group dynamics, relationships and effectiveness.

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Contact: 
Diane Degnan ddegnan@umcom.org
615.742.5406 (work) 615.483.1765 (cell)

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