By REV. LEIGH MARTIN
"Bond, learn, and dream" was the mandate given to the participants of North Georgia’s Academy of Clergy Excellence, otherwise known as ACE2. Thirteen groups, representing more than 80 clergy in the North Georgia Conference, will rally for two years around an essential question as the launch pad for their learning adventures. After an intensive orientation and planning retreat at Callaway Gardens in September 2018, ACE2 groups are embarking on their learning adventures near and far.
The "Rest and Renewal" group wants to know: How can I pour myself out, knowing that I will be refilled? For their first learning module their focus was how groups and individuals recover after traumatic experiences. For seven days, the group traveled together by plane, train and automobile to New York, site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to an Amish community in Pennsylvania, which suffered a mass shooting at a schoolhouse in 2006. They visited memorials, met with authors and worshiped together. They encountered Christ in conversations with strangers in the hotel lobby, waitresses busing their tables and listening to messages left by loved ones on a hijacked plane before it crashed.
“We would not have benefited as much had we gone to a pre-planned Christian conference,” said Rev. Travia Speer. “Being outside the religious context encouraged us to set aside our default operating modes as religious leaders. It stimulated our fellowship to just be ourselves. If we can travel together, we can work together. We returned more relaxed, less stressed, and ready to resume the work of ministry in our local churches with newfound strength, peace and calm.”
Rest and Renewal continues to ponder how trauma and tragedy, along with grace and forgiveness, affect our ability to rest and renew after we’ve spent ourselves in ministry.
"Parts Unknown" asks: what will the church will look like in the next 25 years? The first step in their two-year journey together was to a local retreat at Banning Mills where they were coached by Dan Thurmon, author of Off Balance on Purpose. During this two day intensive, group members were pushed out of their comfort zones on a “terrifying” high ropes course where the adrenaline flowed as members faced fears of rock climbing, repelling and even free-falling. Their time together was designed to force members to confront their fears in order to experience something new.
When thinking about the church of the future, Rev. Julie Schendel said, “This module helped us focus on relying on God, trusting one another and not being afraid to make those first steps into the parts of this world that are unknown.”
This was the first of many learning adventures this group has planned.
"The Care Bears" are exploring how care for self, others and the world lead to transformation. Their learning quest took them to the remote islands of Hawaii, Oahu, and Molokai. While surrounded by stunning beauty, the group spent their time engaging with locals and learning about the past and present ways that transformation is happening. Their trip was inspired by the care happening in the community of Kalaupapa on the isolated island of Molokai. From the 1860s through the 1940s, Hawaiians that contracted Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were sent to live their lives on a remote peninsula shut off from the outside world. After a treatment was found, many choose to remain in the community.
The Care Bears met Father Damien and Sister Marianne (both recently canonized by the Roman Catholic Church) who care for the 11 remaining patients. The group also met with native indigenous Hawaiian professors and priests to learn more about Hawaiian history and the work of reconciliation, particularly following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The group saw first-hand how an intriguing business named Surfing the Nations is in ministry as it transforms an impoverished part of town into a place of hope and restoration.
Reflecting on his experience, Rev. Andy Woodworth says, “We are called to serve communities away from our home zones. Itinerant ministry involves each of us applying compassionate care to listen and learn from the pain, recognizing the local culture where we serve.”
ACE2 encourages clergy to ask big questions and equips them with resources to bond, learn, and dream. At a time of uncertainty, ACE2 is broadening minds and strengthening the tie that binds us together. The inaugural class of ACE2 represents 15% of the clergy eligible for the program. This is only the beginning!
ACE2 will launch its next two-year clergy cohort in January 2020.
Rev. Leigh Martin is the Conference Coordinator of ACE2. Contact her at email@example.com.