By Michelle Morris
Lead Equipper of the Center for Vitality
Last year we talked about money. This year we talked about Mark. Both years we went to places few, maybe none of us, expected.
Mission u is one of the most transformative experiences I have had the past two years. Mission u provides space for spiritual renewal, deep theological reflection, and faith sharing opportunities that build community with people all across the state.
I am stunned every year that there aren’t thousands of people present. Perhaps the issue is that either people have a misconception of what happens at Mission u and who can and does attend.
As a second time facilitator of studies there, I can share my experience in hopes of encouraging others to carve out the time for this extraordinary encounter.
The studies offered through Mission u will challenge you to think differently about things that may feel routine in your faith. Last year, when I led what was somewhat affectionately (and somewhat derisively) called the money study, people showed up assuming that we would learn how to calculate tithing and balance a personal or church budget. Instead, the study urged us to reflect on our economic systems and whether they more closely represent the systems of oppression like the Pharaoh of Egypt, or whether they release us for participation in God’s creative activity in the world.
We examined how our own personal experiences around money, from our earliest memory of using money all the way through what jobs we have worked in our lives, have shaped our faithful responses to needs around us. The result of these collective conversations was a deepening in our own understanding of what it means to be called to faithful stewardship of God’s world, not just what clinks around in our pocketbooks.
This year, we studied the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of radical discipleship. We confronted very real divisions among God’s people around issues of privilege, particularly asking who has privilege and who doesn’t, but also when we have privilege and when we do not.
We had frank conversations about the intersections of race, class and gender. Then, as we turned to engaging the biblical text in ways that involved artistic representations, we not only got to experience the giftedness of the people in the room, but we also got to see Scripture with new eyes.
We closed our time together discussing what it means to bring resurrection to our communities – bringing life into spaces of death – and began to make concrete plans to do exactly that.
All of this takes place in the most diverse room I will find myself in a typical year. We were young and old. Male and female. White, African American, Native American, Hispanic. Clergy and laity. Rich and poor. It is a glimpse of the reign of God that we see too infrequently in our churches for sure, and perhaps also in our day-to-day lives.
I close this reflection with the words of the Rev. Andrew Suite, pastor of Salem UMC in Conway, who was in my class and has returned to Mission u for the second year in a row. “I used to think of United Methodist Women as circles and salad-o-ramas, but Mission u, with all due respect, showed me just how much UMW ‘ain’t your grandma’s Bible study’! I went last year because I heard ‘strongly suggested’ from the Board of Ordained Ministry as ‘required,’ and now I am hooked! The studies offered are second to none, classes are anything but lecturer/listener based, and I’ve had some of the most robust spiritual and theological conversations I’ve had post-seminary at Mission u. This is why I will encourage women and men from my church, as well as fellow clergy, to participate. There is also enough free time or flexible time for this to be a personal or ministry planning retreat too.”
If Andrew’s words and my offered experience have intrigued you, make the time to attend Mission u next year. I dare say you will be inspired and surprised!