By Rick Wolcott*
Powerful witness, passionate worship, and invigorating fellowship were again at the heart of the Bishops’ Retreat with Black Clergy, which was held this year at Deer Creek Lodge outside of Columbus. Clergy from the East Ohio Conference and from the West Ohio Conference gathered for a time of spiritual renewal, networking, and to learn about leading from their strengths.
Before arriving on Oct. 23 for the three-day retreat, each participant took the online StrengthsFinder test. Each clergy member brought the results of their test to the retreat, during which there were multiple sessions devoted to learning how to use those strengths to lead people in their respective mission fields.
“I’m very passionate about local churches engaging their mission field. I am passionate about getting churches outside of their walls and fully engaging the mission field and meeting relevant needs,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone, of the East Ohio Conference. “If you’re faithful in loving, in listening, in leading, I’ve got your back, and, more importantly, God has your back.”
Bishop Tracy S. Malone shares her faith story.
Bishop Malone and Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, of the West Ohio Conference, met one-on-one with clergy members during the retreat and also led group conversations, during which they emphasized the need for clergy to have spiritual companions to whom each could bare their soul.
“It is very critical for mind, body, spirit, for sanity to be in covenant relationship and to be able to get into each other’s business to really care about the well-being of each individual. That is so critical my friends,” Malone said. “We have to be intentional about being in covenant community with one another. We have to care for one another and be able to ask, ‘how is it with your soul?’”
“Who calls you just to see how your soul is progressing and who do you call to see how their soul is progressing?” Palmer asked.
Citing the myriad of ways that technology enables us to stay connected, Palmer asked, “Is there any reason that you can’t show up in one way, shape, or another for each other?”
“Showing up is important because there is strength in presence,” Malone said. “Sometimes words cannot convey how you are really feeling, so the ministry of presence is critical.”
During the question and answer portion of the retreat’s opening session, Pastor Dawan Buie of Centenary Youngstown and Mahoning East UMCs (Mahoning Valley District) asked the bishops, “What do you think the Lord needs of us to move us to where you see The United Methodist Church in Ohio going?”
“God needs servant leaders like us to read the signs of the times and to articulate those to the communities of faith and to the ministry settings where we are serving,” Palmer said. “We need to be able to read the signs of the times and invite people into a new reality and way of seeing, doing and being – but at the heart of it what we haven’t forsaken is the core, the gospel and the Lord of the Church.”
“What comes to my spirit is we need more confidence, confidence in our leadership, confidence in your ability to lead, confidence in the Holy Spirit, and having that level of confidence no matter what your placement, no matter what your context, believing that God can do great things through you and through your church,” Malone said. “I’m prayerful for this confidence and this boldness that God has called you for such a time as this and not to focus on who you are not but to focus on who you are.”
She concluded by saying, “What I’m expecting is not to be looking for the next thing, looking for the next opportunity, but to bloom and plant right where you are, to be faithful to where you are, and your gifts will make room for you.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.