As a green new Executive Director at Wanakee, James approached his first National Gathering, “Waters of Grace,” at Lakeview in TX, with some skepticism and low expectations. But nudges from several trusted mentors and colleagues in the New England Conference spurred him to attend. What several of them had told him – that UMCRM events are unique because everyone “speaks United Methodist,” this unique world of DS’s, Conference Treasurers, etc., our quirky blessings and challenges of this ministry – he found to be true and really meaningful.
“It’s a little bit meta,” James explains – among many things the National Gathering does, it models the elements of a good camp or retreat experience, from faith formation and worship to community building to skills development. He recalls one evening at the 2021 Gathering when he talked with a new friend at dinner about wanting to visit the pavilion at Jumonville. They dashed out to check it out together and while tromping through the woods he thought, “this is just like camp” – I made a new friend, on an adventure out in the woods, talking about my hopes and dreams for my camp, hearing about his. It’s that blend of interpersonal connection, fun, problem-solving, and shared learning, in addition to the structured keynotes & workshops, that keeps James coming back to UMCRM events.
Encouraged by his newfound sense of connection, James hasn't missed a Gathering since. For the next one, he found funding to bring along another staff person. “I felt strongly that it was a good investment,” he remembers. That part-time year-round staffer is still at Wanakee five years later. This year, he’s thinking about how beneficial it could be to bring a board member. The UMCRM Association is committed to offering meaningful, connectional learning experiences that help leaders like James thrive in ministry.