Order of Elders focuses on holiness and pastoral vocation
The Order of Elders of the Western North Carolina Conference gathered at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, November 14-16, to focus on the spiritual life and the pastoral vocation with Dr. Elaine Heath, Dean of Duke Divinity School. The retreat began with worship and Holy Communion on Monday afternoon with Bishop Paul Leeland as preacher and celebrant in Memorial Chapel at Lake Junaluska. His sermon text was Psalm 146. Reflecting on the week since Election Day, he outlined the contentiousness and the division that is apparent in the world. He mentioned Leslie Newbigin’s work: The Gospel in Pluralist Society, and how the first century church that confronted a multicultural, multi-religious and divided world is not unlike the world we are experiencing today. “We need to step into the ordinances of God, the spiritual practices, just as the early church did, as we live into this world,” proclaimed Bishop Leeland. Following worship and the dinner break, Dr. Heath began her teaching about holiness and the pastoral vocation. She began with discussing what holiness is and is not. A basic definition according to Heath is, “Holiness is about alignment with God, listening and watching for the presence of God, and joining into what God is up to.” This can be seen in a four-fold stance: 1) Show up; 2) Pay attention; 3) Cooperate with God; and, 4) Release the results to God. She went on to outline three broad practices of holiness from Jesus’ life: Baptism. Wilderness, and Eucharist. In baptism, Jesus moves forward in God’s direction; in the wilderness, alignment becomes clear; in Eucharist, Jesus is broken and poured out. These same practices become a model for the life and ministry of all Christians. After table discussion, Heath introduced Phoebe Palmer from the 19th century, a leader of the holiness movement and from our Methodist heritage. For Palmer, holiness, or becoming sanctified, was not a matter of feelings, but of “putting ourselves on the altar and becoming an instrument of God’s grace, which includes hands and heart, personal holiness and social holiness,” according to Heath. At the close of the day, participants finished with Evening Prayer in Memorial Chapel, and on Tuesday morning, opened the day with Morning Prayer. Tuesday’s sessions with Dr. Heath included teaching, experiential exercises and group discussions. Focusing on John Wesley’s concept of “searching the scriptures.” which is similar to the practice of lectio divina, the group was given the assignment to read Isaiah 61 individually, read it in depth and meditate on it, and then do some journaling. Later they came back into small groups and discussed their experiences and insights. The afternoon included reflection and free time for participants and then a final session with Dr. Heath. She introduced an orthodox saint, Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian hermit who had great influence in the 17th and 18th centuries. He is known for two primary quotes: “Acquire inner peace and a thousand around you shall be saved”; and “The goal of the Christ life is to acquire the Holy Spirit.” From the examples of Seraphim, Phoebe Palmer, and John Wesley, who were discussed throughout the retreat, it could said they each pointed to the pastoral vocation and the goal of Christian living as becoming aligned or merged with God. This process of alignment is discovered by engaging in the spiritual disciplines and practices. In the course of the 24 hours together, participants identified over a dozen disciplines that had been experienced. These practices can be brought into the life of the local church by the clergy through teaching and personal example. Like the day before, the patterns of Evening and Morning Prayer closed Tuesday and began Wednesday. The final morning of the retreat was facilitated by Bishop Leeland and Rev. Amy Coles. It was an opportunity for the elders to ask any question of the bishop while getting to know him better. The group asked questions or provided advice around these broader questions: What would you like to know about the bishop? What is important for the bishop to know about our conference? What should the bishop’s priorities be? The bishop spent the rest of the session discussing these questions and reflecting on the beginning of his ministry with the Western North Carolina Conference. The retreat closed with a service of prayer and healing led by Rev. Donnell Jeffries and Rev. Kelly Giese. The elders were sent forth to continue ministries in holiness and wholeness.
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