The Wisconsin Annual Conference sponsored The Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation from October 28th to November 3rd. The Upper Room Ministries of Discipleship Ministries (formerly known as GBOD) offers this program experience for in-depth learning in Christian spiritual life. The Academy is a place where Christian faith is challenged - all in the context of a shared experience led by faculty presenters, who invite participants to reflect on their own spiritual journey, and how God is at work in their lives. Forty-nine participants registered for the Wisconsin Academy, including eight international participants. They came from the states of North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The international participants came from India.

It has been years since Wisconsin last sponsored a Five-Day Academy. Johnny Sears, Director for the Academy for Spiritual Formation, visited the retreat to support the revival of the Wisconsin Five-Day and to greet the group of leaders from India. He said he was inspired by “the international flavor of this community and the way the Academy often seems to be able to allow diverse communities to come together as communities of love in a very short period of time.”

UMNS interviewed Rev. Im Jung and Rev. Sam Royappa about the relationship between the United Methodist Church and the “autonomous affiliated” Methodist Church in India, and how they have been working to strengthen that relationship. Im Jung spoke about how this partnership benefits both churches, saying “We are learning from one another that it’s not just God working in us in the United States, but how beautifully, amazingly and in awesome ways God is working with all of us. We need to continue to do this kind of interaction.” She hopes that this will become the role model with India and other countries. Sam Royappa spoke about his goal to bring more leaders from the Methodist Church in India to experience the Spiritual Academy, and eventually to bring the academy to India. Royappa, who will be traveling to India in December with an International Volunteers in Mission team, said, “I’m deeply committed to strengthening the foundation and theological framework of the Methodist Church in India. That will be the fruit of our efforts.” You can read the full article here.

The theme this year at the Wisconsin Conference event was Rekindling the Faith and Engaging the World. William Kumar, the Assistant General Secretary for the Methodist Church in India, spoke to how his faith was affected during this retreat, “I never knew there was so much content in the spiritual activity. It was always a mystery to me that one Bible, being a Christian, is preached all over the world, again and again, again and again, but still there’s no end to the knowledge you get from it. When I’m sitting here and when we are pondering over one subject, the whole day, on the one line, it is truly a blessing.”

Sister Mary Margaret Pazdan, a Dominican Sister, and Rev. David Brownlee, a retired UM Clergy, led this retreat. As she led discussion, Sister Mary Pazdan spoke about our call to believe in Jesus, and she emphasized three verbs: knowing, loving, and abiding. True disciples don’t just want to learn about Jesus, they want to believe in a deeper sense: to know Him, love Him, and abide by Him. She said, “Once you believe in Jesus, your whole being is opened up to a life with Jesus, with the Father, with one another, right away.” She discussed ways that believers in Jesus can be sharing in the God life right now.

Rev. David Brownlee went through the Beatitudes in his discussion, breaking them out into triads, and discussing how they build on each other. He started the third day of the retreat focusing on the second triad, and how the Beatitudes “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” and “Blessed are the merciful” lead into “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Jesus says we must fight for righteousness, or justice. However, righteousness that is unmodified by mercy is a hard, unlovely thing. Brownlee discussed how those beatitudes come together by saying, “When you put together righteousness and mercy, you have the pure in heart. Purity in heart is a passion for justice and a compassion for people.” In the final triad of Beatitudes, we learn that we must not only be pure in heart, but also take action, to become what Brownlee called, “lovingly aggressive peacemakers.”

Johnny Sears praised the leadership of Brownlee and Pazdan and said, “What strikes me about both, and what strikes me about all of our Academy faculty, is again that they come not just as teachers, not just as people with intellectual knowledge, but as people who are devoted to their own walk with God. And so they come among us as fellow pilgrims on the journey; with wisdom, of course, and with their own experience of having really engaged the life of discipleship, and are here to travel among us, and offer what wisdom and experience they can.” Linda Vance, Sam Royappa, Jorge Mayorga Solis, Pam McIntyre, and Gail Ray from the Wisconsin Conference also provided leadership for the event. William Kumar described his experience at the retreat by saying, “I think I have started a journey that I wish to take along with me to India. And this has been truly a blessing to me.” View speaker and attendee videos here. See images from event here.