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St. Simons learning retreat concludes

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 8, 2014

St. Simons Learning Retreat Concludes

As the learning retreat at St. Simons Island continued yesterday in its fourth day, Dr. Christine Pohl shared how hospitality helps to sustain Christian community. She said one of the reasons we struggle with offering welcome to strangers is maintaining fidelity to a distinctive identity. When communities do not make room for strangers, it is often because they are insulated or dying.

A life of hospitality begins in gratitude and in worship. Hospitality is first a response of gratitude for God’s love. It comes out of a grateful heart.

Hospitality is important in the Biblical and church tradition. “Jesus both welcomes and needs welcome. Jesus requires that followers depend on and provide hospitality,” said Dr. Pohl. “The Christian practice of hospitality is always located within the larger picture of Jesus' sacrificial welcome to all who come to him.”

What would happen if we helped our congregations think about who are invisible people in our community who needs welcome?  Such a church would tell the story of God’s hospitality and welcome and connect the practice of Communion to make more explicit the connection between the various tables of our lives. Churches would do more to reconnect home and church through small groups and intergenerational opportunities. We would find ways to value people’s gifts and provide opportunities for them to share those gifts.

Following worship, the Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey presented information about the West Ohio Conference's Missional Church Consultation Initiative and discussed their process.

Every year the bishop and cabinet choose ten churches with capable pastoral leadership that are either at a plateau or in decline.  These churches and pastors enter into an intensive consultation with “prescriptions” or recommendations for the churches to implement with the assistance of coaches. The church pastor learns the skills to fuel and lead a contagious ministry movement, and the entire process helps to galvanize the congregation around the desire for change and refocus on the mission of making new disciples for the transformation of the world.  

“The initiative has helped us align resources and energy to raise up and help pastoral leaders learn to lead a missional movement to reach their community,” said Rev. Nilson Kibbey.

One such example is Stonybrook United Methodist Church in Gahanna, Ohio. They implemented one of the core distinctives of the pastoral training -- a “breakthrough prayer initiative” – that helped people began to look beyond their church and how they could impact their neighborhood. “It really opened the church to the atmosphere of God possibilities,” said Rev. Nilson Kibbey.

There were presentations from Bishop Peter Torio, Bishop Christian Alsted, and Bishop John Wesley Yohanna about how vital congregations are being created in the Philippines, Europe and Africa. 

Bishop Torio said the Manila Episcopal Area has more than 150 mission congregations and outreach ministries, the Baguio Episcopal Area has 155 mission congregations, and the Davao Episcopal Area has 10 mission congregations. Small groups are deployed to reach out to communities through feeding programs, jail ministries, campus ministries and more. Congregations have been established overseas through small group ministries in Dubai, Spain, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Bishop Alsted shared several models and discussed the focuses in the Baltic and Nordic UMC: church planting, strategic training and coaching, leadership development, recruitment and training of pastors and deacons. Another focus is the natural church development program, and of the reasons why is because it is available in their language. 

Bishop Yohanna shared about programs being used in Africa to grow vital congregations. “The church in Africa is growing all the time due to the fact that people come knowing that church can offer them hope – hope of living, hope of surviving, hope of freeing them from disease,” said Bishop Yohanna. 

During the afternoon, the group had a choice of five group breakout sessions:
•    Building a discipling system
•    Spiritual formation and development
•    Planting new churches
•    Building vital congregations in urban context
•    Central conferences

In further conversations about the adaptive challenges facing The United Methodist Church, the residential bishops noted that Christ calls them to be in union with him, with one another, and with the Church.  They recognized that they are called to lead according to the example of Jesus Christ during a challenging time within the church.  Disagreements about human sexuality threaten to divide the church; and while there will be differing understandings, the bishops are called to be bishops of the whole church and to lead the church through such challenges.  The residential bishops had conversations about how they could carry out the Book of Discipline and lead during this time.  The conversation involved listening and forthright discussion in a covenant of grace-filled hospitality and truth-telling.  No decisions or agreements were reached during these conversations.

During the retreat, participants also heard from Bishop Mike Watson of the North Georgia Episcopal Area about the Paine College shooting, from Bishop John Wesley Yohanna of the Nigeria Episcopal Area about the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, and from Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Eurasia Episcopal Area about the situation in the Ukraine and were in prayer for all of those affected by these events.

This morning, Bishop David Yemba introduced Dr. Munashe Furusa, the new vice chancellor of Africa University beginning July 1. Following discussion wrap-up, and closing worship, the learning retreat ended today at noon.  

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