The annual HELM Leadership Fellows retreat took place from November 1st through 4th in New York City. This year, twenty-five Fellows gathered for an opportunity to share and engage with one another as well as meet with creative and faithful leaders from across the life of the church. During their time in New York, Fellows met with Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Patrice Rankine, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Richmond (VA), and Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, pastor of Riverside Church. They also visited the 9-11 Museum and, on Sunday, worshiped at Riverside Church.
When asked what she gained from the retreat, Quinlan Pulleyking, a third-year fellow from Missouri State University, noted she was reminded that it is okay to dream: “During one of our plenary sessions, Dr. Patrice Rankine spoke on designing our lives. I was encouraged to understand that there are multiple great lives within me and I get to choose which one to build toward. There is space within me and within all of us for more than one life outcome.” She also shared that, as a Religious Studies major at a state university, she often finds herself caught between two worlds: “There is the world of people who are totally emotionally stimulated by Christ but don’t let that cross over into their headspace. Then there is the world of people who are on board for studying religion and ideology but don’t have time for Jesus to be intimate. However, during the weekend we had time to break off into small groups (cohorts) and each had a conversation leader.”
Chris Dorsey, President of HELM, met with the first year Fellows as they discussed the theme of Community using Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together while, coincidently, meeting in the Bonhoeffer Room at Union Theological Seminary. The second-year cohort met with Brandy Daniels and focused on Transformation by discussing Martin Luther King’s Why We Can’t Wait, with particular attention to his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The time with third-year students was facilitated by former Global Mission Intern Toni Reynolds as they focused on the theme of Global Awareness using Solidarity Ethics by Rebecca Todd Peters. Finally, fourth-year students met with Patrice Rankine and Mark Anderson, President of the National Benevolent Association (NBA), using Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak to talk about Vocational Discernment.
Paulina Garcia Gonzalez, a student at Chapman University, noted that for second-year students such as her, New York City was the perfect location: “My friendships with the other fellows were transformed into deeper friendships, my connection with God was transformed and challenged as we discussed what it means to be church today, and my point of view of liberty was transformed as we went to the 9-11 memorial.”
Finally, Colten Johnson, a first-year Fellow who is studying at Drury University, shared that “The best part of the trip was the people. I have never been surrounded by a group of people my age who are so grounded in their faith. An example I can give is comparing this weekend to church camp. Some of my best conversations about faith have come from camp, but rarely on the first day. Everyone tends to need a few days to warm up to each other, but the Leadership Fellows retreat was a different story. No warm-up was needed. Everyone knew why we were there. The conversations where educational and challenging. I’m so glad that I’m getting this opportunity.” Gonzalez agreed: “The Leadership Fellows retreat is one of the weekends I look forward to the most during the school year because I know I will get to see some of my best friends, get to explore a beautiful city, meet new people, learn new things and experience the glory of God.”
The Leadership Fellows Program is a leadership development program for Disciples undergraduate students. Each year of four years of undergraduate education has a different focus: Community, Transformation, Global Awareness, and Mentoring. Click “here” to learn more about the Leadership Fellows Program.