I returned home yesterday from a retreat mandated and led by Bishop Thomas Bickerton, along with other clergy from the Pittsburgh and Butler Districts. The rereat was held at Camp Lutherlyn, which was absolutely beautiful, especially when filled with the vibrant colors of autumn and the falling leaves. Excellent facilities, and the food was pretty good too, as far as camp food goes.
It is always good to connect with sisters and brothers in Christ, and the conversations and "down time" were certainly a highlight of the two day event. I'm blessed to be a part of this Annual Conference, with so many gifted servants.
The Bishop presented his take on the itinerancy. His presentation was detailed and, while the topic can be a bit dry, fairly enlightening. Many in our Conference, myself included, have questioned the wisdom of the process in years past, as it has seemed at times as if salary considerations and politics have had far more to do with appointment-making in our Conference than gifts, graces, and missional needs. Bishop Bickerton has been very honest and open, and it seems as if the days of money and politics as primary considerations are gone. Praise God! I can certainly affirm that my current appointment seems the result of excellent matching and Spirit-filled direction, rather than other factors. I appreciate our Bishop's openness and the hard work our episcopal leader and his Cabinet.
He also spoke about why we need to support our Conference's strategic plan, "Believe Again", which is an attempt to not only recapture a sense of optimism, but do something to really affect mission among United Methodists in western Pennsylvania. While no one likely feels the plan is perfect, hopefully we can agree that it's a noble attempt to try something new to revitalize ministry in our Conference. In my view, we need to support our Bishop and the strategic plan as strongly as we can.
The highlight of the retreat - by far - was the sharing of the sacrament. How blessed we are to experience this gracious gift. I believe that the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup may be the most powerful thing we do as the Church, for it encompasses so much. Too often, we take it for granted, when the Eucharist is a proclamation of penitence, forgiveness, reconciliation, new life, and empowerment unrivaled in Christian praxis. When we celebrated the sacrament at Camp Lutherlyn, it was a moving moment for me. At Jefferson UMC, we celebrate communion monthly; that isn't enough. It's my desire to lead the congregation to a deeper understanding of the sacrament (something which my predecessor successfully accomplished, taking them far on the "sacramental journey"); weekly celebration is my goal. It may take a few years, but it's a goal worth working toward.
All in all, a decent retreat...a good opportunity for Bishop Bickerton to be honest and open about what may be the most stressful thing he does, which causes serious anxiety for our Conference clergy. It could've been a lot worse...I could have been there on my wedding anniversary. It was wonderful to get home and see my beautiful wife and children, though I have a lot of work waiting for me in the church. Praise the Lord for that, too!