#BeUMC | Learn More About The United Methodist Church

ACE Learning Groups


Border Walls and Bridges

How do we prepare the table to be a place of welcome for everyone in order to have crucial conversations?

  • Martha Dye
  • Ash McEuen
  • Juan Quintanilla
  • Joel Rodriguez


Border Walls and Bridges Study the Immigration Crisis Up Close and Personal

Never in a million years thought I would have the opportunity to study and visit  in depth the issue of immigration that has affected to one extent or another people all over the globe. Why in the world would a mother leave her children, a man his family, a child her parents to travel a dangerous and uncertain journey to a place they have never been and where they know they are not always welcome?

ACE2, an amazing alternative continuing education program for clergy serving in the North Georgia Conference, has given me the opportunity not only to get to know a few of my colleagues better, but to stretch myself and to study an issue that I have grown to care about very deeply.

During the first year of this two year experience, we visited the southern and northern borders of Mexico. In San Diego, our group saw the “Wall” and  talked to the churches in both countries. We heard the real stories of the journey and what the church was doing. Later in the year, we traveled to Tapachula, Mexico and stood beside the Usumacinta River that divides Mexico and  Guatemala.  We wept over thousands of immigrants and refugees, who after an arduous journey, had crossed that river only to be stranded  for months on the streets of Tapachula.  Some travelled from Central America and others from war-torn African countries.  Due to new regulations, their long journey ends with life under blue tarps and in the shelters of Tapachula.  

We fretted over Victoria, a woman from Africa in her eighth month of pregnancy,  whose desire was to make it to Canada, but now had no idea where the birth of her child would take place.  Under the blue tarp?  We laughed like crazy over the smiles of a hundred children and adults who stood in line for donuts at the Albergue Jesus el Buen Pastor del Pobre y el Migrante. One child was so little, the donut was bigger than he was!  We heard so many stories, looked in so many eyes, felt so much frustration and so much pain.

Here’s what we discovered. The immigration/refugee situation is just a mess.  Just a mess! But isn’t that God’s main business? To poke around and change us so that we find the courage to start cleaning up the messes of the world? That’s our plan for our next year together. Root causes, politics and power and how these cause a mother to leave her kids. It’s all connected.  And we want to learn more so we can better tell the story.

I am so grateful for the chance to be a part of ACE2. Give it a try!  You will be glad you did!    


Church Pirates

Where do you see the Holy Spirit outside of the institutionalized ideology of church?

  • Dave Allen Grady
  • Scott Parrish
  • Laura Patterson
  • Amy Valdez Barker
  • Sharon Waters
  • Julie Wright


The Church Pirates Find Treasure in Following the Holy Spirit


The Church Pirates are an adventurous ACE2 group formed in January 2020 seeking movements of the Holy Spirit outside the institutional church. Given a pandemic, and the events of 2020, we adjusted from a general search of various movements to a more particular focus around race and social justice for 2020-2021. 

We were a group late to gel with ACE2 as it took some time to find each other. So, we didn’t start off with deep relationships, or a solid plan, and all of that has taken time to come together. During the year we’ve enjoyed book studies, and zoom conversations, and a couple of outdoor, socially distanced times together. Along the way we read “Not Every Spirit,” “Stamped from the Beginning,” “Walking With the Wind,” and similar books. We have met via zoom with Bishop Woodie White, Carol Naughton of Purpose Built Communities, Rev Dr Cassandra Gould of Ferguson MO, Rev. Korla Masters of Minneapolis MN, & Jeffrey Wright of Athens, Georgia, as well as others who have helped us discern current Holy Spirit movements. 

Recently we enjoyed a Civil Rights tour in Alabama from May 16-18, 2021 as we were finally able to travel. It was time for a real life adventure! It’s one thing to read about, and another to experience, a dynamic movement with interesting people and transformational action. 

Karen Webster Parks served as our conversation partner and helped us in our preparations and networking to do a Freedom Riders tour. We were guided by Georgia Calhoun in Anniston where we learned about the Mother’s Day 1961 bus firebombing. We were self guided in Birmingham at 16th Street Baptist Church & Kelly Ingram Park, and also in Selma at Brown Chapel AME Church and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

In Montgomery we experienced an incredible few hours with Wanda Battle and Dr. Vanda Harris giving us the story and behind the scenes view. We visited Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Martin Luther King served as pastor. We heard stories at the Brick-a-Day church (FBC) where Ralph Abernathy served. We spent time at the Dexter parsonage, which was bombed January 30, 1956, a month after the Montgomery bus boycott began. We saw the small jail (still without historical marker or note) where Rosa Parks and many others were held. We spent time at the Harris House and heard stories and imagined the safehouse and strategy meetings held there. We ended the day at the Southern Poverty Law Center at a memorial listing many names, though certainly not all, of those killed during the 1960’s civil rights movement.   

After a year of pandemic isolation this deep experience is still very fresh for the Church Pirates. The immersive, relational, community plunge was powerful. It fits how we learn experientially, and is a welcome break from typical clergy life routine. We had a great time with the mix of intensive learning and unscheduled time for conversation and reflection. It’s the best of discipleship exploring orthopraxy & not just talk about orthodoxy. Plus, a couple of our shared meals seemed like a heavenly communion!

Church Pirates are always looking for treasures. During this journey we found each other again. We enjoyed discovery in a shared adventure. That joy is found in what we discovered in the trip, and also in what we learn to cherish in the individuals of our group, as well as what we are becoming as a team. We didn’t know each other very well before ACE2, and this has offered us a deeper community drawing us out of isolation. 

Along the Alabama trip we met new friends. We found a deep stream of faithful living in the midst of adversity. We were renewed in spiritual practices that encourage us to “Stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness.” We were reminded to be sure to have a strong network, a safehouse, and a strategy room. The Holy Spirit isn’t finished yet, nor is the work of Beloved Community completed, as there is still much to do which calls us to action. 

In many ways it seems like the last year of pandemic was like navigating without a map. It turns out that some of that has been good preparation for letting go of what has been, and listening to Holy Spirit at work in the larger world for our next steps. The Church Pirates are already looking forward to our next adventure, and hope you find a group of explorers who have a zest for life and faith.

Conversations Along the Journey

How do we have civil conversations in a divided world?

  • Zack Martin
  • Matt Murphy
  • Lori Osborn
  • Beth Shugart
  • Byron Thomas
  • Max Vincent


Conversations Along the Journey Discover Innate Bias in All of Us

We’ve decided to explore the topic of hidden biases, which is derived from the book Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People written by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald.  This extraordinary piece of literature captures the essence of our human biases entrenched in all of us in some form or fashion.  Unfortunately, these biases derive themselves in the form of all sorts of prejudices regardless of race, color, creed, ethnicity or national origin.  Co-author, Mahzarin Banaji devoted several hours to a Skype session with our group in order to process the innate role of bias in our human nature.  

The journey for us so far has been enlightening.  We took a day trip to the Carter Center in Atlanta to learn how they approach peace building and conflict resolution.  In October 2019, we travelled to Pendle Hill Retreat Center just outside of Philadelphia, PA.  Pendle Hill is a Quaker retreat center with their own unique traditions.  In the quiet of the camp, we reflected on experiences of conflict and bias in our ministry settings.  Away from camp, we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones and took a segway tour of the “City of Brotherly Love.”  We learned about the rich history in downtown Philadelphia, including Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, The Art Institute, and Betsy Ross’ home where the first American flag was created.  Most importantly, we deepened our connection with each other as we engaged in conversations that build bridges rather than divide.  

Thanks to North Georgia’s Academy of Clergy Excellence and Rev. Leigh Martin for making this possible.  May the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  


Intellectually Curious, Socially Conscious & Holy

How do we embrace diversity and welcome the other into our midst?

  • Nora Colmenares
  • Rodrigo Cruz
  • Dana Everhart
  • Tonya Lawrence
  • Joseph McBrayer
  • Vance Ross
  • Brian Tillman


Watch: The Intellectually Curious Reflect on Systemic Hate

"Words Can Kill" Rev. Brian Tillman

"Faith Lived Minute by Minute" Rev. Dr. Nora Colmenares 

"For Every Life" Rev. Dr. Vance Ross 

"Let's Stop Breaking the Future" Rev. Dr. Rodrigo Cruz 

"Juden: In the Garden of Exile" Rev. Dr. Dana Everhart 


The Intellectually Curious Discover Past Atrocities Can Help Us Embrace Diversity Now

As a group of diverse individuals, we intentionally formed around a shared belief that commonality discovered through relationship yields greater fruit than divisions of difference that exist in disconnectedness. We are a group of clergy who vary in gender, age, ethnicity, ordination vows, and ministry context. Each of us brings with us a wealth of knowledge and experience that have informed the inner workings of our group from the beginning and continue to be a deep well from which we draw each time we gather.  

In our first year, the essential question for our group was: how could we become a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic microcosm of what we hope to see in the North Georgia Conference and The United Methodist Church?  We have allowed the Holy Spirit to order our steps and things have been revealed to us individually and collectively on our journey. We have met in different spaces and engaged with different voices. Recently, we did both when we traveled to Germany in order to gain new perspective from a different culture with the hope of learning from those who are living this out.    

While in Germany, we packed each of our ten days with as much as we could. We learned of the nation’s sordid and harmful history during a tour in Berlin. Immediately, we realized that there are many monuments, and signs placed throughout the city that serve as a reminder of their history. We learned from our tour guide that this intentional because Germans want keep the horrors of their past front and center, so they will not be repeated, which is something that we all agree that we, as a nation and a denomination, would do well to heed this candor around history and atrocities. In addition to this, we saw the remnants of the divisive Berlin wall that are now dwarfed by growth and the bustle of multi-cultural life in motion around it.

We visited a concentration camp nestled in a town that largely chose to overlook the atrocities that were happening on their watch. We made the trek to the house where Dietrich Bonhoeffer once lived and stood outside in the pouring rain to soak in the meaning of his life and faithfulness. We also visited with several local congregations and government officials who have and continue to take an active role in welcoming individuals fleeing chaos and strife in places such as Syria. Our group also visited the Documentation Center which chronicled Hitler’s early life and his rise to power. We also drove on the Autobahn and enjoyed the freedom provided in the areas where there were no limitations on speed. As a result of this experience, we have begun to discuss how this trip has informed our thoughts on otherness, the importance of valuing all human life, the treatment of migrants, the use and abuse of power, and our theological understanding of the concepts of guilt, shame, forgiveness and reconciliation.

We are committed to continuing this conversation because we realize that it needs to involve more individuals who are seeking change that is long overdue. Thus, our group shall continue to explore the question of how to build deeper relationships that allow divisiveness to be dwarfed by connectedness through faithfulness.  


Intentional Pilgrims

How do we repurpose the ancient practice of spiritual disciplines in order to recognize the value in what is old and seasoned in our spiritual lives while enduring practices with new approaches?

  • Cindy Conner
  • Dan Dixon
  • Mark LaRocca Pitts
  • Liza Marler
  • Kathie Statsko


Intentional Pilgrims Discover the Sacred in Americana and Themselves


Pilgrimage is a time-honored tradition of visiting a place with significant meaning for the pilgrim. When spirituality was confined to the domain of religion, pilgrimage sites, such as Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca, or the Ganges River, held meaning due to their connection with a religious figure or event. Spirituality, however, is now understood in broader terms that relate to the search for meaning and purpose through the experience of connectedness. As such, secular destinations, such as Omaha Beach, a famous person’s birthplace, or Wrigley Field, can be considered pilgrimage sites because of the meaning they have and the experience of connectedness they provide.

More than destination, pilgrimage, as opposed to tourism, is a question of attitude and intent. An attitude of being open to significant meaning and an intent to experience deep connections along the way can transform an ordinary journey into a life-changing pilgrimage. Especially when the path or destination is considered iconic: that is, it is already imbued with significant meaning within a particular community. For this reason, we, the Intentional Pilgrims, chose for our ACE2 project a pilgrimage along Route 66. Crossing prairies, rivers, mountains, and deserts, connecting large cities, small towns, and forgotten hamlets, and filled with roadside attractions, Mom & Pop motels, and “greasy-spoon” diners, Route 66 traverses our American homeland and our American soul as perhaps the most iconic roadway in our American culture.

Flying to Chicago, six NGUMC pastors rented a large van and drove 2,700+ miles to Santa Monica, CA over 14 exhausting, yet exhilarating days. We stayed in 14 Mom and Pop motels. We ate at over 40 local cafes and greasy-spoon diners. We visited a dozen or two roadside attractions. We met hundreds of people. We practiced spiritual disciplines including submission, contemplative prayer, sabbath, journaling, and pilgrimage. And throughout it all, we encountered God in the varied landscapes, the people we met, and ourselves.

Most difficult, yet most transformative, was our encountering God in ourselves and each other. Pastors are used to being in charge. We like being in control. Now put us in a van for 14 days with little down time, add the exhaustion of traveling, the headaches of living out of suitcases, and the anxiety of not knowing each other, mix it vigorously, and you have the recipe for social discord. Except for one ingredient: The Holy Spirit.

After several confrontations, misunderstandings, and attempts to avoid each other even when face-to-face, we began to believe that integrating all our different personality quirks seemed beyond our abilities and possibly not worth the effort. Then the Holy Spirit struck one morning in our daily devotion when we combined a reflection from Colossians 3:12-15 with the idea of God being most present when things are not going as planned. Suddenly realizing God brought us together intentionally to teach us new things, we submitted to God and one another and committed to go the distance trusting God was present with us.

God’s work is not yet complete. We are far from perfect and still stumble. But our intentional pilgrimage has begun. It has taken us through the heartland and soul of America via Route 66 where we encountered God in the everyday and in everyone, especially ourselves. Learning more about ourselves and the ways God can transform the ordinary into the sacred and the old into the new, we hope to bring to our churches a better and renewed us and a deeper understanding into how spiritual transformation occurs in the lives of God’s people. We look forward to seeing where God will lead us next on this pilgrimage.


 Job's Friends 

How do we share with other clergy the value of covenantal peer groups over the course of ministry?

  • Jody Alderman
  • Robert Brown
  • Chuck Hodges
  • Rob Lanford Jr.
  • Terry Walton
  • Bob Winstead


Job’s Friends Demonstrate the Value of Clergy Peer Groups Over the Course of Ministry

The importance of a peer learning group like Job’s Friends is inestimable.  Job’s Friends share a 35+ year journey of not only ministry within the North Georgia Annual Conference, but for life shared with, lived into and leaned into together as friends, brothers and fellow children of God.

Job’s Friends, as one of the inaugural groups in the first year cohort for the ACE^2 peer groups in North Georgia, has a distinct characteristic among the ACE^2 groups.  We did not use the first year of the ACE experience getting to know one another, bonding around a shared experience.  We have 35 years of shared experiences and collegial support. We decided the “highest and best use” of the ACE^2 opportunity is to share the story of our journey. We will continue to meet together for prayer, learning, and sharing the journey together with a unified purpose of seeking to devise and implement a "replication plan" that will benefit the individual members of new groups, and their congregations and communities where they are appointed and serve.

Job's Friends is a ministry accountability and support group formed for the purpose of resourcing one another, supporting one another by covenanting to commit the time, energy and resources to provide a "safe space" to share and encourage one another in the pursuit of excellence as clergy, spouses, parents and friends in community, praying for one another and "being present" for one another as we share life’s journeys.

The members of Job’s Friends are: Jody Alderman, Robert C. Brown, Chuck Hodges, Rob Lanford, Terry Walton, and Bob Winstead.  Job’s Friends began as a peer learning and support group, but has evolved into so much more.  The ethnic and gender composition of Job's Friends is homogeneous. However, the theological and ideological diversity is broad and far ranging.  The "dynamic tension" of contrasting perspectives has been a "bonding agent" for us and has produced long lasting, deep and abiding relationships.  We understand diversity not only to mean gender, ethnicity, or age, but rather an understanding or "world view.  The homogeneous ethnic composition of Job's Friends has enabled the group to reflect upon the "privileges" and meaning of our ethnic heritage and to be more intentional in our individual efforts to be "radically inclusive" in helping to build and foster faith communities that are intentional in welcoming ALL.  

Using an educational analogy, we acknowledge the strength in having a homogeneous (homeroom) where we gather with a group that shares social, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and contextual similarities for a portion of our lives so that we might be better equipped to address and understand why we see, understand, or approach the "stuff of life" the way we do.  The strength of this "homeroom" is that is allows the individual members a "safe" environment, to explore, ponder, question, address and discuss the salient and critical issues of leadership that lead to transforming themselves and contributing to the ongoing conversation in their respective communities.

For Job’s Friends some of the benefits of our peer support group have been: Accountability to/with one another, Bearing one another’s burdens and Brotherhood, Caring Compassionate Counsel, Devotion to one another and Deep and abiding Friendships, Encouragement, Friends who really understand you & Fun, Good Times, Honesty in Conversations and Relating to one another, Intentional Faith Community & Integrity, Judgement Free Zone, Kinship, Loyalty and Learning together, Meaningful Relationships, No Bad Days, Open Minds, Perspectives and Pondering the stuff of Life with fellow sojourners, Quirky Questions encouraged, Real Relational Bonding, Support of True Friends and Safety in asking tough questions, Truthful Assessments of Performance, Unswerving Commitment to one another, Veracity in Communication, Wisdom Shared and Scrutinized, Exchange of Ideas, Yearning for Excellence in all things, and A Zone for safe Conversations and being Real.

We hope to help others form meaningful and lasting accountability and support groups. We expect that in the process of discussing, devising and planning for the implementation of the replication groups, Job's Friends will ' "Hand off" the baton of the continuing race towards excellence in ministry and service in the Kingdom.  We expect to develop new and lasting relationships with the replication groups we help foster into existence and through our association with those new groups to continue learning from and with the new groups. We expect to finish well, Coaching, Counseling and Encouraging others on the journey!


Parts Unknown

How do we make the unknown known to our churches as we seek to discover and participate in what the church may look like in the next 25 years?

  • Heather Jallad
  • Shannon Karafanda
  • Erik Mays
  • Matt Nelson
  • Tara Paul
  • Ted Rollins
  • Julie Schendel
  • Owen Skinner


Watch: Parts Unknown Releases Devotional Series 

The focus of the series is on the Corrie Ten Boom quote "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God." You're invited to watch and share with your church or small group.


Parts Unknown Looks for New Ways to do Church

Parts Unknown is exploring new territory for the Church with an eye on what the Church might look like in the next 25 years and how we can be more effective pastors and leaders.  We began our adventure together at a high ropes course with a facilitator, Dan Thurman, who coached us in the art of living life off balance on purpose.  Later in 2019 we travelled to Washington state for the opportunity to spend time with Leonard Sweet, author, professor and thought leader on future studies and semiotics.  Washington is also the birthplace of the Dinner Church movement.  Our goal was to learn from these practitioners and pioneers and consider application for our contexts. To prepare for the trip we were asked to read the Gospel According to Starbucks, Mother Tongue, and The Bad Habits of Jesus (all by Len Sweet). Most of us also attended a Dinner Church Encounter training as well.

We saw Christ in many places and experiences. Len’s family was the epitome of Christian hospitality welcome, and warmth in the meals prepared and the conversations shared. We saw Jesus at the dinner tables as we shared in two dinner church experiences where people openly shared their stories and the stories of what God was doing in their lives and their trust in God whatever their circumstances were. We saw Jesus in a man who was provided a space to share his original poetry and be celebrated by his dinner companions. We saw Jesus in somehow keeping a group of people who lead daily from taking over or exacerbating others, instead collaborating and working together in agreement.

Our ACE adventures have helped us to get to know and better understand one another, as well as, enjoy some time away. We all felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in this time uniting us in mission together with our variety of gifts. Our time with Lenoard Sweet opened to us a way of reading scripture most of us had not encountered with reminders to trust The Story. The time with Len and with the Dinner Church folks both pointed to the importance of contextualized mission and ministry. The day of the “franchise” church is coming to an end. Additionally, we are a people in a world more and more at extremes and the middle is disintegrating. Particularity to culture, to people, to neighborhoods is important. Ultimately we returned refreshed and reminded to keep the main thing the main thing.


Purer Space

How do we create purer spaces in our lives together through authentic and trusting relationships?

  • Eddie Bradford
  • Debbie Carlton
  • Mac Enfinger
  • Michele May
  • Dane Wagner


Purer Space Experiences God Moments in New Mexico

We call ourselves Purer Space. We have experienced stress, uncertainty and conflict that are part of ministry and life in general.  We long for something different. We long for a deeper experience of God’s presence. We long for authentic and trusting relationships. We have committed ourselves to journeying together for two years with the hope that God will do something new in us, among us, and around us.

In 2019, we traveled to New Mexico hoping to encounter God in purer sacred spaces.  We sought experiences that would encourage us and help us to grow spiritually.  God provided opportunities for us to experience many sacred moments – moments, that throughout the week, we called God Moments. God Moments were the times that we experienced a deep awareness of God’s presence – of God’s grace, majesty, love, mystery, and amazing works.

We began our time in Albuquerque by taking a 2.7 mile tram ride to the top of Sandia Peak. The view was breathtaking. We experienced the beauty of the mountains and the city of Albuquerque below. We walked along the paths and were reminded, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

The next day we went to the Richard Rohr Center for Action and Contemplation. We had been unable to schedule a time with Richard Rohr or one of the other staff members of the center.  Nevertheless, we wanted to take a tour of the center and experience the sacred grounds. At the bookstore, we met a staff member who was able to give us a tour. While we were talking, Richard Rohr walked into the room. He had been recording a podcast and was on break. It was a God Moment that we were able to meet Richard Rohr. We experienced the sacred as he talked with us and then showed us the grounds – the prayer labyrinth, the Trinity Tree and his sunflowers. The following morning, we attended an early morning prayer service at the Rohr Center.  

The rest of the trip, we sought purer spaces in Santa Fe including, Loretto Chapel and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. On Saturday, we went to Chimayo and saw El Santuario de Chimayo. The chapel is known for being a healing site and is now managed by the Archdiocese as a Catholic Church. Around 30,000 people make a pilgrimage to the site during Holy Week. We arrived in time for mass, another God Moment. We worshipped with people of all ages, from various cultures and faith backgrounds, and in Spanish and English. We were reminded of the wideness of God’s mercy and the power of worship to bring us together.

Time will not allow me to tell of other God Moments, but each day we were filled with joy and hope as we experienced the holiness of God in creation and in the people we met. We are thankful for our time in New Mexico and look forward to new discoveries in the future in the purer sacred spaces God gives to us.


Rest and Renewal

How can I pour myself out, knowing I will be refilled?

  • Leonard Akers
  • James Gwin
  • Chris Mullis
  • Shelia Preacher
  • Travia Speer


Rest and Renewal Balance Community and Solitude for Recovery


We are a group of five introvert pastors who tend to keep frustrations bottled up inside.  Our experience as an ACE2 group drives us to be more open with one another.  Our study question is: “How can I pour myself out knowing I will be refilled?”  

Our first research trip compared the responses to tragedy of two very different communities.  The tragedies were the 9/11 terrorist attack and the 2006 Nickel Mine Amish school shooting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  We visited the 9/11 Memorial to contemplate the events of that tragic day and how the city mourns.  Then, we traveled to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania to meet Steven Nolt. Dr. Nolt shared his experience writing the book Amish Grace about the community’s response to the school shooting.  While both communities suffered deeply, the Lancaster community seems to heal better because it is more tight knit than NYC.  The contrast of these two communities shows the work pastors do to create community is essential to our ability to recover from seasons of struggle. Our visit brought these insights to life while travel together strengthened our friendships.

Our next journey took us to St. Simons Island, Georgia.  While relaxing on the beautiful island, we visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on nearby Jekyll Island to explore the rehabilitation of injured animals.  We also shared with one another some sacred spaces we cultivate for personal renewal.  These sacred spaces are wonderfully different for each of us and include cooking as a spiritual discipline, playing tennis for renewal and joy, tactile prayer with thread and beads, hand copying Scripture as an act of meditation, and creating serenity and solitude in a hammock.  At the Sea Turtle Center, we learned the resiliency of turtles is both an asset and a concern.  Resiliency permits turtles to heal from devastating wounds from which other animals could not recover.  It also means turtles don’t often receive help until their injuries are quite severe.  Turtles are not communal creatures.   After receiving help from a healing community, it is very important for them to return to their naturally isolated environments.  Like turtles, pastors are quite resilient.  Sometimes this means we don’t seek healing until we are already deeply wounded.  We must tend our souls carefully.  Renewal looks different for each in our group.  However, it is crucial to rely on one another for help.  If we balance community and solitude well, we are more likely to recover fully after we pour ourselves out in service.  

Our first year in ACE2 was invaluable.  We have learned much and grown together.  We anticipate even more from the coming year.  


Serenity Sisters

How do we as female pastors integrate mind, body, spirit, and environment for the purpose of personal renewal and deepen our relationship with God and others?

  • Elizabeth Ackerman
  • Elaine Crawford
  • Heather Flaherty
  • Nancy Long
  • Candy Thacker


Serenity Sisters Care for Self at the Heart Level

A year of clergy excellence completed and a new one ready to begin!  Our group, Serenity Sisters, just completed the first year of the two-year Academy of Clergy Excellence continuing education program (ACE2).  We are thankful for what we have experienced and look forward to what is yet to be!

Our learning centered on expanding our knowledge and the practice of self-care.  As ministers we understand the importance of this at a “head level.”  This past year, as members of our group purposefully slowed our pace, we became aware again of the beauty that lies within this gift of self-care at the “heart level”… perhaps even at a cellular level.

All of our trips in 2019 we short ones and close to home. Several of our trips took us into the mountains, a place where each member of our group finds peace, comfort, and renewal.  What we quickly discovered was that this renewal did not just begin when we arrived at our destination.  Several members of our group commented on the release of stress they felt as they were making the drive itself.  With each passing mile, our attention and tension migrated away from the long lists of “I need to,” “I should,” and the “just let me do this one more…” that is constantly running through our heads. As the miles clicked by, our thoughts began to shift from lists of things needing to be done to thoughts of community and connection such as,  “I wonder what this experience will hold for me…” or “it will be good to see…” and “I’m thankful for…”.  

As our year together progressed, the commitment to caring for ourselves and the practice of setting apart time to do so, moved from apprehension in the beginning of the program about being “away” on a committed number of days to a recognition and quiet peace that accompanied our growing understanding that our time away was a gift to not only ourselves but those in the churches and communities we serve. We look forward with excitement and anticipation as we wait to see how God utilizes our renewed selves!

The ministerial diversity within our group provides an opportunity for discussion and reflection from varied perspectives.  With ministers serving at various stages of their careers, as well as parish and extension ministers in our group, we are learning a great deal about the breadth and depth of resources and skill sets each woman contributes.  We are thankful for the gracious sharing of these gifts for the good of our group.

As we look forward to completing the second year of ACE2, we are excited to take a trip centered on expanding our focus of Contemplative Prayer and exploring the restorative properties of sound therapy. This two-year program has been a wonderful gift and we are each thankful for the many and varied opportunities to become more intentional in our practice of self-care while making this journey with our sisters in ministry!


Theology of Play

How do we reclaim our identity as those who are created to play?

  • Joya Abrams
  • Wendy Cordova
  • Catherine Boothe Olson
  • Lynne Smith
  • Carolyn Stephens
  • Jessica Terrell
  • Blair Tolbert


Theology of Play Rediscovers the Importance of Having Fun

Theology of Play ACE group understands that as adults we can easily loose ourselves in our careers, callings, families, and all the other demands that life brings.  These clergywomen set out to rediscover the joy of play in their lives.  They meet up most months for one-day ventures that stimulate their playful side that has been ignored for too long.  These women are learning the importance of laughter and fun and benefits these bring to the soul.

"We felt refreshed and were reminded that when God created us, God built into us a need for community and for the refreshment/ enjoyment of nature.  Play is sometimes unstructured, but always fruitful...I am really grateful for the ACE program.  It has been great to share with colleagues different ways of connecting and conversing through simple acts of joyous play."

"We are busy!  This pandemic has brought new challenges and stress to all of us.  We need more space, time and permission to play. We need space and permission to rest and to do what is good for the body - thus making ourselves more available to ministry.  It is simply good to be with others without having to lead or teach or be in charge.  I think when we take better care of our whole selves, we are better able to care for others.  In addition, I think in most settings, we have church members who have forgotten how to play and need permission and opportunities to enjoy life, to rest to be recharged in creative ways."  


 Walking Women of the World

How do we strengthen our mind, body and spirit, recognizing the spirituality of our physical selves and walking into the authentic individuals God created us to be?

  • Anika Jones
  • Millie Kim
  • Terri Lemons
  • Karen Lyons
  • Pam McCurdy
  • Cyndi McDonald


Walking Women: Their Boots are Made for Walking

The “Walking Women of the World” ACE2 group objective is to build lifelong friendships, strengthen our mind , body and spirit, recognizing the spirituality of our physical selves and walking into the authentic individuals God created us to be through sharing experiences, and practicing different spiritual disciplines.   We began our first group trip on November 13, 2018 at a team member’s family cabin in North Carolina where we started developing trust to build our lifelong friendships.   Next we participated in a spiritual retreat at the Order of St. Helena in Augusta, Georgia in February 2019 where we expanded our spiritual disciplines and recognized our authentic spirituality with a spiritual director.  Our group decided our local physical test would include walking in the July 4th Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta in which our team mates completed the race.  We were so excited because several of us would have never participated if we had not received the encouragement of our clergy sisters.

We chose to walk the Ottawa Trail to Montreal, Canada for our spiritual and physical journey.   To prepare, we trained individually and we attended a three-hour class to learn from experienced hikers/pilgrims.  Seven North Georgia Clergy Women- Nancy Johnson, Anika Jones, Millie Kim, Terri Lemons, Karen Lyons, Pam McCurdy and Cyndi McDonald flew to Ottawa, Canada.  Our experience began with a worship service which included a blessing of our backpacks and radical hospitality.  Former pilgrims walked several miles of the journey with us sharing their stories of faith. 

We walked from Ottawa-Orleans to Orleans-Buckingham where we had vespers with nuns who only spoke French except one but the Holy Spirit had no language boundaries.  They hugged us, welcomed us and helped us.   We walked to Buckingham-Thurso and to Thurso-Plaisance where two former pilgrims surprised us by fellowshipping with us for dinner.   We ended our journey in Montreal where we enjoyed a Food Walking Tour.  We walked 12-14 miles a day.  As we were walking we were growing physically and spiritually.  We learned to listen to our bodies, and pace ourselves understanding that our personal best is good enough!  We would sing and meditate on Matthew 11:28-30 (our group Bible verse).    We encountered Christ in nature, in our guide and each other when we celebrated Communion each day. It reminded us we are all created in God’s image. 

Beyond the walls of the church, “grace” was expressed in word and deed by the store clerk, wait staff, the hostess who let us take a break, and Gracie, the puppy that accompanied us. We did not “earn” grace.  They simply extended it because it’s what you do for your “neighbor.”  We learned to be present, listen and extend grace to others.   Are we doing the same? Are our churches doing the same?

We strengthened and expanded our mind, body, and spirit through this journey. We are thankful to God, and the North Georgia Annual Conference.  It was a gift and grace of God!


Weavers of Worship

How can we grow spiritually and glorify God by using all our senses through incorporating creative arts into worship? 

  • Rob Bruce
  • Theresa Coleman
  • Carol Cook
  • Shelia Crowe
  • Greg Meadows
  • John Turlington


Wholly Living

Am I currently living a life of wellness?  Am I striving to become whole?  How is my wellness or lack thereof affecting my vocation and community? 

  • Kathy Brockman
  • Jessica Chicken
  • Patrick Faulhaber
  • Tyler Jackson
  • Tim Lloyd
  • Joe Palmer
  • Blake Trent