Unification News for June 2005

Westrock Epworth Retreat Overview

Westrock held its second retreat on April 23rd and 24th at Epworth Methodist retreat center, in upstate New York, near UTS.

What Happened: An Account

On a rainy Saturday morning we drove about an hour and a half up the New York Thruway to Epworth Farm. A Methodist-owned retreat center, Epworth features an old farmhouse overlooking beautiful meadows and a winding river. The program began with a reading from Father's words from the first assembly of World Religions, to shine some light on the retreat theme: "Unificationism: Church, Federation or Movement? Does it Matter?"

I gave a brief talk about my background and what led me to help organize the retreat, and presented some guidance about what retreats are in general. This was followed by Jack LaValley's presentation about the importance of balance between organizational needs and the needs of members, and why that is often an issue for religious institutions, including ours.

We then took a short walk over to the dining hall for a delicious lunch. After, we divided into two smaller groups to address prepared questions relating to the retreat theme (see the separate detailed discussion notes). After a break for time to walk on the scenic grounds, talk or just sleep, we gathered to report back about the discussions. This was wrapped up with an explanation by Philip Shanker on his thoughts about the differing missions of UC/Family Church and FFWP, and a proposed organizational plan he's working on at national headquarters.

Dinner followed (crab cakes, chicken, baklava). The conversation continued informally, with much fun and laughter. After, some had to leave while those who were staying the night settled in to watch a movie Ð Luther. Some talked until the small hours.

The next morning we decided to share personal testimonies and in turn, we each talked about our life and journey for awhile. For me, this was the most affecting portion of the retreat, it felt like a sacred experience to hear about some aspect of each person's life story. This took us until lunch.

Thus ended our stay at Epworth; we drove over to the Unification Theological Seminary for the final portion of the program. Here, Gillian Corcoran gave an interesting talk introducing the labrynth; its origins, meaning and what to expect. Then we all walked the labrynth which is essentially a prayer walk, that guides you on twists and turns to end up in the center. Labrynths have symbolic and archetypal meaning that are a spiritual guide; it was a great way to finish. After final testimonies about the retreat overall as well as walking the labrynth, we ended the retreat with a prayer in its center.

Comments on the Theme:

I felt the discussions were honest, respectful as well as humorous. Did we solve any of the questions about the theme: "Unificationism: Church, Federation or Movement? Does it Matter?" Not definitively, and we probably raised many further questions. At least for me, however, through the discussions we were able to move towards some level of resolution in some areas.

It seems we are not a movement anymore. Yet we are not entirely comfortable with the idea that we are 'just' another religion; we have high hopes of being more than that - but there is not a lot of clarity as to what. The issue of our formal identity as to UC / Family Church and/or Family Federation is quite unclear and that lack of clarity extends to national headquarters. Some participants who have a formal role at headquarters said they were interested in working to clarify the distinction; apparently a proposal about this is being developed.

Some of the cultural issues in our movement spring directly from the founder and are consequently hard to change. But we do need to accept the paradox that at least some of the roadblocks to the development of the church/movement come directly from the founder. One theme that repeatedly came up is the sense that there's a strong connection between our individual spiritual development and our ability to do God's work. They are two sides of the same coin: personal development goes hand in hand with community development and vice versa. And it seems our church culture is weak in this area.

Some quotes from the discussions:

"I would like to put together a document that our true mission is not to convert people but to live the truth and thus influence others to do the same and get on the path to becoming a divine being." Rev. Levy Daugherty

"We need a dual track; we each need to be working on our own internal growth and developing ourselves and each other, and also at the same time, we need to work on where the movement is at."

"We need to be more genuine with ourselves and others."

In conclusion: I felt there was a level of intimacy and commonality created during the retreat that was hopeful and healing, even though there were many different viewpoints about the theme. New relationships were formed, existing ones strengthened, and the overall experience felt like a small slice of heaven.

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