Church of the Brethren clergywomen gathered in retreat at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., in the Phoenix area, on Jan. 6-9. The 57 women from across the denomination were led by presenter Mandy Smith on the theme, “Treasure in Clay Pots” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Originally from Australia, Smith is lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a regular contributor to “Christianity Today” and Missio Alliance. She referred to her book, “The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry,” as she led the group in examining how imperfect human beings may be vehicles for God’s work in the world.
Smith told about powerful experiences of God working through her own weakness and frailties, and related those experiences to the personal dynamics of a church leader’s life. Citing the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10–“He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me”–she encouraged the clergywomen to “lean into” and accept their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses in order to allow God to work through them.
Speaking in particular about dynamics experienced by women church leaders, Smith encouraged the group to let go of feelings of shame about their own imperfections and vulnerabilities, and to move toward acceptance. She has learned to emulate Paul in boasting openly about her own imperfections, she said, witnessing to how human weakness strengthens the ability to minister and share God’s love with others. New things may become possible when one intentionally chooses to be vulnerable, she said, encouraging attention to times when one feels “empty” and in deep need of healing because that is when God may work.
“The best ministry grows from reliance on God,” Smith said, “and our weakness teaches us reliance on God, so weakness is a ministry resource.”
Her sessions included “table talk” in small groups. The women were invited to share stories from their own lives and ministry experiences. Topics for sharing included, among others, stories about how something became possible because someone chose vulnerability, unhealthy ways people avoid or try to fix weakness and–on the other hand–healthy responses that rely on God, and practical ideas for “Sabbath rest” and play. Smith also led a session using art and creativity to discern God’s work in the world.
In addition to the sessions with Smith, the retreat included daily worship services, workshops, many different recreation options, relationship building and fellowship. Childcare was provided, encouraging the participation of younger clergywomen.
Led by Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of the Office of Ministry, with assistance from office manager Mishael Nouveau, the planning team included Connie Burkholder, Kathy Gingrich, Sara Haldeman-Scarr, Rebecca House, and LaDonna Sanders Nkosi. The worship committee included Rebecca House as convenor, Barbara Dickason, Leah Hileman, Cesia Morrison, and Deb Peterson. A volunteer prayer team undergirded the event with prayer.
Financial support for women’s travel and scholarships was provided through the generosity of the Womaen’s Caucus and the Mary Blocher Smeltzer Fund. Financial support for childcare came from the Ministers’ Association. Financial support for transportation came from Pacific Southwest District and San Diego Church of the Brethren.
Find a photo album at www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/2020clergywomensretreat .