Clergy throughout the North Alabama Conference journeyed to Camp Sumatanga this week for the annual Gathering of the Orders. Elders, deacons and local pastors meet each year to catch up with old friends and exchange ideas about ministry.
The focus of this year’s meeting was “Fresh Water from Ancient Wells: Exploring the Depths Wesley Drew From.” Using ancient teachings of spiritual guides all the way back to the desert fathers, speakers linked them to issues relevant to today's church, using Wesley’s vision for Methodism during these lectures:
Each day of the event includes times of prayer and worship, as well as celebrating Holy Communion. This year’s presenters, Dr. Roberta Bondi and Dr. Bill Mallard, are both retired from Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Bondi was professor emeritus of church history and is the author of several books, including Nick the Cat: Christian Reflections on the Stranger and To Pray and To Love: Conversations on Prayer with the Early Church. Dr. Mallard taught the Scriptures and the history of the Christian church in United Methodist congregations, at conferences and at Emory's Candler School of Theology. He also taught religion at Sweet Briar College. He was ordained an elder and accepted into full connection in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Shirleen Harvey, a licensed local pastor, tries not to miss the Gathering of the Orders, formerly called the Bishop’s Convocation on Ministry. "I’ve been attending for about a decade, I guess," she said. "I enjoy listening to the presenters, and taking what they share back to the church. The fellowship is another reason I like to come. But most of all it’s the three Rs—relaxing, refreshing and renewing."
"The speakers and the topics are so timely," said Rev. Nancy Hornsby, associate pastor at Vestavia Hills UMC. "We are living in a time when it is vital to go back to our Wesleyan roots."
Rev. Amy Parsons Vaughn of Birmingham First UMC agreed. "It seems less about competition than it used to, and more about spiritual formation," she said.
"It’s been a healthy transition from Bishop’s Convocation to Gathering of the Orders," Hornsby added. "I get a sense of community building here."
Included in this year’s event was a 5k run and one-mile fun walk. Pastors participated in Work off the Potlucks, a fundraiser for the Mission2Gather group of advance special ministries and mission congregations supported by the conference. Rev. Gary Formby of Central UMC in Decatur came in first among the runners, who ran the 5k route along Gallant Road.
"It was a beautiful morning and a great way to begin the day at the Gathering of Orders to run with some of my colleagues," said Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons, pastor of Community Church Without Walls in Birmingham. Mission2Gather leaders expressed gratitude for the support of their ministries through the 5k. The run and fun walk for 2012 will be held during Annual Conference.
Attendees also heard an update from Camp Sumatanga, and had an opportunity to ask questions of camp executive director Matt Johnson and board chair Mike Byrne. There is a great deal of excitement about the strategic plans in place to secure the future of Camp Sumatanga.
Rev. Sally Allocca of East Lake UMC was attending the gathering after a break of several years. "The reason I came was to hear Dr. Mallard," she said. "And I am glad I came for other reasons as well. I have been down memory lane with old friends, and I have enjoyed seeing new faces. And the speakers did not disappoint."