Order of Elders at Alton Collins Retreat Center, October 2014


 By Rev. Brian Shimer, on behalf of the Order of Elders

The Order of Elders Gathering at Alton Collins in October was a refreshing gift for the Elders in this Annual Conference as it invited us to take steps into deeper relationships.  Led by Co-Chairs of the Order Rev. Todd Bartlett and Rev. Dr. Kate Conolly, the midweek gathering began after a great Alton Collins’ dinner, with viewing a TED talk called “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown. After this both Kate and Todd modeled their own experience with being vulnerable and shared what had led to this event’s theme. 
Bracketed with wonderful and diverse worship experiences planned and led by Rev. Rand Sargent, Rev. Karen Shimer, Rev. Michael Benischek and Rev. Pamela Nelson-Munson, the main content of the three days was the honest sharing by six colleagues, Revs. Debbie Pitney, Erin Martin, Craig Hall Cutting, Christina Thompson, Clay Andrew and Elizabeth Winslea. They talked about what it means to be present to: 1. God, 2. Others and 3. Self. Their honest talks invited us all more fully “into their private worlds,” giving us the gift of seeing their hearts, often hearing their pain, and feeling with their lives. 
Assisted in discussion and pondering by Rev. Mary Huycke, a coach and consultant from the PNW conference, each of these six presentations became an opportunity for both personal reflection and community sharing. After some hours free on Wednesday filled with walks, “Soul Collage” led by Rev. Donna Pritchard, and multiple other activities, we spent some time in the evening looking at what it might feel like serving as a Local Church Pastor, an Extension Minister, a District Superintendent and Bishop in our connection. Many of us were surprised by how significant that conversation about roles became.
Throughout the time together, there was a display of items personally made by the elders, which were up for silent auction.  $1000 was raised for Imagine No Malaria.
In Methodism we speak often about our connection -- the congregations are linked in an Annual Conference, and we are thereby connected. The Elders (Deacons and Associate Members) become Full Members of the Annual Conference, thus linked into a greater “church” connection. But more than a word, connection takes effort, honesty, vulnerability and courage. Courage as Brené Brown used it means this, “Speaking the truth from the heart.” This kind of speaking is what this gathering began to allow, and began to build. The mission of the church can only be strengthened through such work.