First impressions tell you a lot… but they don’t tell you everything. My Gathering of Leaders experience began with a great meal. Before we even made it into the restaurant there were warm reunions by previous participants and there was a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere around the table. I was told that this was a place where leaders could bring their real selves and be vulnerable. “You’re among friends.” And, indeed I was.
The retreat topic of Racial Reconciliation and Discipleship in the Missionary Church is timely and is definitely where I spend some contemplation as a church planter. The Presiding Bishop is calling all of us to a deeper understanding of evangelism and racial reconciliation, but for me, trying to reach out to under-served populations in my community is imperative for our survival. Even so, I probably would not have set out to explore for answers myself. That’s part of the point of Gathering of Leaders: to expand the horizons of your awareness beyond your immediate context. And to join with others on that journey of discovery.
I learned so much because I was able to encounter other national thought leaders on the subject, as well as colleagues in ministry who are also working on creative solutions. At most of the ministry conferences I attend, the most valuable take-aways, the real gems I find, are not discovered in the main sessions taught by keynote speakers, but happen instead in the hallway break time conversations, or the dinner afterward as everyone processes what they heard and discusses application. Gathering of Leaders gets that right. There are one or two experts, but the entire retreat is participant led. Those side conversations are moved front and center with the subject matter experts offering support. That means every table conversation, every breakout session, is led by practitioners…just like you.
I found community there amid the diversity of my journey companions. There were other church planters or congregation developers who inspired hope and offered their hard-earned lessons as well as encouragement. There were also Bishops and Canons to the Ordinary in this gathering who offered insight and mentorship from a seasoned perspective. Now I understand the warm reunions I saw that first night because I will feel the same way when I gather again with the friends I made in San Francisco.
Of course, the real test is what changes when you return home from Gathering of Leaders. Gathering of Leaders was transformative for me. I came away with an action plan and I started working it immediately.
First impressions tell you a lot, but they don’t tell you everything. All I can give you is a brief impression but you’re going to have to come and see for yourself. If you are invited to attend a Gathering of Leaders, do it!
The Rev. Leslie Stewart
Vicar, Resurrection Episcopal Church, Plano, TX