I was first invited to attend the Gathering of Leaders about 5 years ago, early in my ordained ministry. At the time, I was unable to attend for various reasons: time, money, family commitments. This time around, when I saw that GOL was taking place much closer to home, and now that my kids were a bit older, I ran out of excuses. To be fair, if I assessed the timing according to work and life demands, I could have justified not attending and saying it was the “worst possible time” to attend. But in reality, it was the best time to attend. Even though the retreat center at Malibu was less than an hour drive, it was a world away in so many ways. It gave me some much needed space—in mind, body, and spirit—to be and reflect on my vocational journey, in community with clergy colleagues on a parallel path.
The topic of unity and division in the church was a timely one, and each theological reflection, presentation, and scripture study prompted us to discuss in small group settings. By the close of Eucharist on the final day, I felt as if I was in a different kind of thin place. I had a mix of practical, spiritual, and theological ideas swirling in my head, but in a way that felt inviting and challenging. In the discussion about unity and division, I found myself thinking about the need to engage in creative forms of unifying our church around the Baptismal Covenant, for instance. About how we live out the commitment to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and see the inherent human dignity of all people. I also found myself thinking about the Baptismal call to resist evil and to strive for justice, which had me wanting to call out notions of false unity—when the church calls for unity with the hopes of sweeping injustice and suffering (especially systemic ones) under the rug. I appreciated the table conversations where we discussed how disruption and division, rooted in love and a desire for transformation, inclusion, and justice, can be holy, prophetic work.
Finally, at the Gathering of Leaders I am grateful that I was able to reengage with beloved colleagues that I only see in passing because we’re all traveling and ministering at light speed; and that I was also able to build connections with new colleagues that I hope to sustain. The work that I did at Gathering of Leaders has given me further clarity about my role as an organizing priest—as someone who hopes to use the tools of unity and disruption as holy gifts to build up God’s beloved community.
The Rev. Francisco Garcia
Rector, Holy Faith Episcopal Church