By Jesse N. Love
For more photos from Mission u, visit bit.ly/photos-missionu2017
Ellensburg, Wash. – “Sometimes people forget that the Church is an agent of mission,” shares Bishop Mary Ann Swenson. “How do we overcome challenges in faith (egocentric, paternalistic Christianity) to achieve mutuality?” Swenson is putting some final touches on her plenary presentation inside the McConnell Auditorium at Central Washington University.
People are trickling into the cool, air-conditioned space, escaping the warm, summer Ellensburg heat. Attendees prepare to learn about missionary conferences and finding partnerships through mutuality and deep conversation (but not necessarily, consensus). “Learning through transformation” is the approach at Mission u and this year, developing and honoring covenant relationships with one another and creation is the focus.
Mission u was held from July 14-17, 2017 and with 140 participants. Offered this year were several classes related to fulfilling covenant relationships. The course, “Living as a Covenant Community” was offered with three instructors: Janjay Innis, the Rev. Neal Christie, and the Rev. Dr. Denise Honeycutt. The Rev. Pat Watkins instructed a Climate Justice course. Amanda Hutchinson and the Rev. Christopher Gudger-Raines led sessions for youth discussing group dynamics, peace, and covenant.
“…God is a covenant-maker, which means that God initiates a covenant relationship with us,” shares Janjay Innis, a former Global Mission Fellow and currently serving a pastoral appointment at John Wesley UMC, North Georgia Conference. “It’s also an agreement – we have to say ‘yes’ to with what God is asking of us. We’ll be exploring that today and tomorrow and make commitments when they leave this place – doing the justice work we as people of God are called to.”
The Rev. Pat Watkins, retired, served as the General Board of Global Ministries as a “Missionary for the Care of God’s Creation”. Attendees were encouraged to strive for climate justice, act on a Biblical foundation, and contact government officials urging them to seek ways to be a part of solutions to preserve God’s creation.
Other highlights from the covenant classes included fun projects, role-playing/skits, and the debut of the 2017 Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.
“Being here in the Northwest, I hope we can continue to be this: walking on the two feet of compassion and justice,” shares Bishop Swenson. Leading the all-school study, Swenson focused on the Alaska, Oklahoma Indian, Red Bird Missionary Conferences, as well as the Central Jurisdiction and Rio Grande. Relationships between these areas prompted discussion on the harm inflicted on both land and its inhabitants. At one point, Swenson made connections between the historical treatment of Native Americans and her experiences with segregation while attending school in Jackson, Miss.
“Anything I can learn that helps me become more tolerant of different cultures, education, age, any of those things…I want to accept them where they are,” shares Chanie Christman, a member of Spokane: Covenant UMC who responded with enthusiasm to Swenson’s plenary presentation. “I know in the history of The United Methodist Church — we haven’t had that mutuality,” shares Elizabeth Williams also of Spokane: Covenant UMC. “There is so much we can learn from those in other Conferences and mission fields. It’s not always about ‘us teaching them’.”
“We are jointly-sponsored by Conference Global Ministries and Conference United Methodist Women,” shares Joan Hackett, dean of Mission u. “We are trying to be very inclusive and encourage men and youth to come…and we hope to gradually build the attendance.” In addressing a younger crowd, Bishop Swenson shares, “The thing with young people: they will be the ones at Annual Conferences and General Conferences in upcoming years, making decisions about the future.”
“(What I’ll take back to my church is) a greater understanding of what The United Methodist Women is doing and the different missionary conferences,” shares Sara P. Sara is one of several young people attending Mission u and served as a page at Annual Conference. “The more involved you are, the more connected you are with the church and the more you feel like it’s really ‘yours’. I always love that feeling so I love coming to things like this.”
Abby Niehaus is another young person who was personally invited to Mission u by Joan Hackett. Niehaus discussed personal circles with her group: “We had the opportunity to create our own circles and think about who is in them. We also discussed what ‘peace’ means to each of us – when you can be with God and when you feel God working in you, with you. It’s more spiritual than I thought it would be.”
“Most times people come back with a renewed sense of hope, something positive to work towards, there is always a good atmosphere of support,” shares Keith Hackett, long-time Mission u leader and husband of Joan.
Mission u continues to provide opportunities of transformation through new relationships, deep discussion, and structured learning about the work of The United Methodist Church.
If you would like to learn more about Mission u, visit www.pnwumw.org. Next year, the Rev. Neal Christie will return with the mission theme, “What About the Money?” Also, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson will return to discuss, “Mission Conferences with a Difference.” Mission u 2018 will be held at Central Washington University in Ellensburg on July 13-16.
Special thanks to Deb Avery, Lois Long, and James Lohn.