By Jessica Brodie
It was shorter than years past—just two hours on a Friday night—and many of the participants weren’t even gathered in-person. But those who attended the Men n Ministry “One in the Spirit” men’s spiritual retreat said it was just as powerful and Spirit-filled as the rest.
Because of the pandemic and its limits on travel and mass gatherings, United Methodist Men’s ministry leaders decided to shift this year’s retreat to a partly online, partly small-group oriented event from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 26.
Some men chose to participate from home, while others gathered in small groups or at their churches for the gathering.
The “One in the Spirit” theme drew from the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (NIV).
Keynote speakers Carlos Whitaker—the author of “Moment Maker,” “Kill The Spider” and “Enter Wild”—and John Eldredge, author of “Wild at Heart,” “Captivating” and more—spoke on various aspects of unity, from overcoming cultural divisions to harmony in the home.
Marvin Horton, president of South Carolina United Methodist Men, gave thanks to the four host churches, as well as the 20 smaller sponsor churches and the corporate sponsors for their help with the event. Host churches were St. John’s United Methodist Church, Aiken; Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington; Belin Memorial UMC, Murrells Inlet; and New Beginnings UMC, Boiling Springs.
“The pandemic has changed our world and our lives,” Horton told the men, noting masks and social distancing, while necessary, have created feelings of separation and isolation.
“How much of this has affected and influenced our spiritual lives?” Horton asked. “But we know God is always with us. … He has called us to move beyond the physical, to rise above the physical and into the realm of the spiritual.
“We are called to be one in the spirit.”
Whitaker: A ‘hope dealer’
In a question-answer session led by the Rev. Trevor Miller, Whitaker called himself a family man, a work in progress and a “hope dealer.”
However, Whitaker said, 2020 was the most divisive year of his life between race, politics and more.
“Unless the church changes that, it’s going to get worse,” Whitaker said. “I believe it’s our responsibility as men and leaders of church to take a deep breath, place aside all … the things that get us riled up, and go back and look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If there’s one thing that’s going to unify us again, it’s the Gospel.”
Whitaker said the Gospel is people-focused, healing-focused and freedom-focused.
As a Latino Black man, Whitaker said he feels God is giving him a voice of hope and unity in the white culture of America.
“I feel the men watching this need to understand we all carry some level of responsiblity in order for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our communities. We don’t need to be the hands and feet of a policy, of an opinion. We are to not stand on issues but to walk with people.”
Whitaker said at the root of all division we find sin and trauma, the things that have happened to every individual.
“If Black man is at a Black Lives Matter march with a sign, the reason he’s there is there’s trauma that happened to him that’s formed the belief that his life doesn’t matter,” Whitaker said. “And for people yelling back ‘all lives matter, it’s not just a Black thing,’ they, too, have had trauma.”
Both must realize there’s real truth to both people’s perspectives, and the truth is found in the pain—which is where healing begins.
After Whitaker and Miller’s Q&A, men were invited to review a number of discussion questions whether in a group setting at a host church or quietly from their home to journal about, pray over or meditate on.
The questions: Why do people naturally gravitate toward division rather than unity? What can the Gospel stories about Jesus Christ teach us about being one in the spirit? What is your initial reaction to the story Carlos told about his neighbor, James? Why is proximity and conversation key to cultivating a spirit of oneness? What is one way you could build relationship across cultural and ethnic divides?
Holston: Empathy and vulnerability
Next, the Rev. Daniel Stevanus led a Q&A with South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston.
Holston talked about how being vulnerable and authentic with other people is where relationships start and true unity begins.
But he said it’s also important to remember that people do get angry.
“When you witness injustice, action has to be vital,” Holston said.
Empathy is also critical, he said. We all have something in common. Spending time with other people helps us understand that.
“Jesus teaches us there’s power in proximity—the closer you get to God and His grace and mercy to experience Him, the more you want to be involved,” Holston said.
It’s the same with people.
“We have to get close to each other. Conversation opens the door to us being vulnerable and share in ways we never have before.”
The best way to start, Holston said, is to be yourself.
“Often we’re trying so hard to be right that we find ourselves stepping into places unknown. Let’s start with, ‘Who am I?’”
Eldredge: Let God guide you
In Miller’s Q&A with Eldredge, the author and church leader revealed he’s an avid bow hunter and outdoorsman who loves being a husband, father and grandfather.
Eldredge said right now in world there are a lot of “high-octane feelings” going on, but we have to remember that we are children of God and He is our father, and no matter what kind of relationship we had with our earthly father, we have a true Father who guides us moment by moment.
“To get to where you are headed to a greater unity in spirit, you have to begin as men yielding to the Spirit,” Eldredge said, noting a big step is allowing God to guide us.
Eldredge said men are fiercely independent; they don’t like to ask for help or feel weak. But that’s often where men get into a hole they can’t climb out of, for they think being strong means they don’t need to depend on God.
“When we’re hooked up to God, men are meant to be wild, to take risks, to lead, to live by faith. But when we’re not hooked up to God … it all goes way off into the weeds there.”
Eldredge said Jesus constantly pointed to the Father, and if we want to stay on track in our homes with our wives and children, we need to stay in relationship with God and be willing to let Him heal what is broken in us.
After, men were invited to review discussion questions: Why is it so important for the hearts of men to be surrendered to the Spirit of God? How does thinking about God as Father impact you positively or negatively as a man fighting for unity? How does thinking about yourself as a son impact you positively or negatively? How does it make you feel to know that the Spirit of God can live and dwell inside of you to help you navigate life’s challenges? What kind of response do you think you would get if you asked those around if you are a man of unity? A man of protection? A man of love? What is one way you can allow the Spirit of God to have more of your heart and life?
Men’s Prayer Room goes online
One longtime tradition of the men’s retreats is the men’s prayer room. This year, even though the event was largely online, men wanted to continue with the tradition.
Men’s conference prayer coordinator Dennis Sullen, Clayton Easter and the Rev. Chris Snelgrove put together a separate Zoom room during the event where they gathered in prayer for the men and event overall.
“We decided to keep it simple because people not that fluent in these things,” Snelgrove said.
They had a designated phone number where people could text prayer requests, and they prayed throughout the event.
“We’re kind of crusty guys who’ve never had an experience like this where everything is online, so we wanted to put together an experience, without much experience of our own, on how to engage these guys.”
He said they learned a lot for next year and had the chance to pray for a number of men.
In addition to the talks, men also got the chance to worship with music led by Mount Horeb UMC’s Praise Band. They also had the opportunity to seek prayer from a Men’s Prayer Room led by the Rev. Chris Snelgrove, Dennis Sullen and Clayton Easter, who prayed for men and the retreat overall throughout the event.
For more on men’s ministry in South Carolina: http://mennministrysc.org.