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Association of Stated Clerks and Association of Mid Council Leaders convene for annual fall event

Ghost Ranch is the site for the two groups’ second joint gathering

by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Engagement & Support | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico, hosted last week’s meetings for stated clerks and mid council leaders. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

ABIQUIU, New Mexico — Against a spectacular backdrop that has inspired the likes of renowned painter Georgia O’Keeffe as well as generations of Presbyterians, the Association of Stated Clerks (ASC) and the Association of Mid Council Leaders (AMCL) gathered from Oct. 25-28 at the Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center for a time of refreshment, rest and renewal.

For many COVID-19-weary denominational leaders, the in-person event — the second of two ASC/AMCL events held this fall — afforded a timely opportunity in a safe environment to exchange best practices, experience worship, engage in spirited play and share in meaningful conversation.

“Since the start of the pandemic, ASC and AMCL have gathered mid-council leaders together over Zoom,” said the Rev. Dr. Erin Cox-Holmes, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Donegal. “While those gatherings have sustained us, this opportunity to be together feels like manna in the wilderness.”

The Fall Events Planning Team, led by Cox-Holmes; the Rev. Deborah Boucher-Payne, general presbyter/stated clerk, Missouri Union Presbytery; the Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson, stated clerk, Presbytery of Donegal; the Rev. Katherine Runyeon, stated clerk, Synod of the Pacific; the Rev. Mark Hong, synod executive and stated clerk, Synod of Southern California and Hawaii; Tamara Williams, stated clerk/administrative coordinator, Presbytery of Charlotte; and the Rev. Dr. SanDawna Gaulman Ashley, transitional synod leader, Synod of the Northeast; thoroughly researched venues and activities to ensure participants’ enjoyment, comfort and safety before selecting its two fall event sites, Bon Secours Retreat Center (Baltimore) and Ghost Ranch.

The Bon Secours event, attended by 50 mid-council leaders, was led by the Rev. Susan Beaumont on the theme “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going.”

Ghost Ranch — which has been part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) since 1955 — is a Presbyterian-related conference and retreat center situated on 21,000 acres of canyons and cliffs, plains, grasslands and streams in north central New Mexico. Some 50 participants and 15 of their spouses or partners took full advantage of the site’s natural beauty both during the scheduled programming and the plentiful free time.

Following New Mexico guidelines, participants remained masked while indoors. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

To safely serve its guests during the pandemic, the retreat center’s staff was fully trained and certified by the state of New Mexico in COVID-safe practices. New Mexico currently requires that masks be worn in all public indoor spaces.

The featured speaker at the Ghost Ranch event was the Rev. Marthame Sanders, an Atlanta-based improviser, pastor, podcaster, producer, musician and consultant. A graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago, Sanders has served in ministry as international mission staff, youth director and solo pastor.

The Rev. Marthame Sanders used improvisation to engage stated clerks and mid council leaders. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

Each day following morning prayer, announcements, singing and icebreakers, Sanders engaged ASC and AMCL members in a variety of improvisational exercises, which he utilizes for both entertainment and transformation. On the final evening, in which spouses and partners were also invited to participate, Sanders led the group in an “improv jam,” during which Ghost Ranch’s Agape Center fairly shook with laughter.

The four-day event also included a lunch sponsored by the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), after which participants had an opportunity to hear from the Rev. Rosemary C. Mitchell, CFRE, senior director of Mission Engagement and Support; and the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and associate director for Compassion, Peace and Justice.

In her presentation on why stewardship is integral to discipleship, Mitchell sought to demonstrate why the Church’s focus should be on stewardship rather than fundraising.

“There are a lot of secular [fundraising] approaches that make it much, much easier to just take the short-term view, to ‘grab some money’ and be done and done,” Mitchell said. “The problem with that approach is that we then can’t figure out why the money dries up and we become a victim of our own panic and fear when we are supposed to be people of hope. Stewardship is about trust in God. Not that you don’t have a plan [as you would in secular fundraising], not that you ‘check your brain at the door,’ but that we know with all our heart, soul, mind and strength that we are called to do the work of God’s people for God’s people.”

Participants responded favorably to Mitchell’s assertion that mission and stewardship should go together rather than stewardship and finance.

“When finances drive mission, we see the need and the first question is, ‘How much will that cost?’” she said. “When finance and stewardship go together, short-term focus substitutes for long-term vision and, as a result, mission is poorly communicated.”

Mitchell also reminded the gathering that the PMA’s mission engagement advisors — including Lynne Foreman, William McConnell, Lemuel Garcia-Arroyo and René Myers, who attended the Ghost Ranch event — “are here to help.”

The Rev. Rosemary Mitchell and the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus are pictured standing outside the Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center. (Photo by Emily Enders Odom)

Following Mitchell’s presentation, Kraus provided an overview of PDA’s current activities, particularly the work of disaster relief — made possible, in part, by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing — and refugee resettlement.

“We’re still responding to many huge disasters, all of which are much worse because of the lack of vaccine equity in the international environment, Haiti, especially; as well as Nepal, India and South Sudan,” said Kraus. “We are also continuing to do spiritual and emotional care. We have done compassion fatigue for a long time.”

She commended two PDA national staff people for mid council leaders to contact for the resources they need to support their pastors, namely the Rev. Dr. Kathy Riley, team lead for Emotional and Spiritual Care, and Susan Krehbiel, associate for Refugees and Asylum, whom she cited as a link for PDA’s Afghan work in response to one attendee’s question.

“We have such amazing colleagues,” said Wilson, Donegal Presbytery’s stated clerk. “We’re so grateful to our PMA and PDA colleagues for joining us for this lifegiving event.”

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