Western Field Retreat: A Time of Dreaming

Submitted by Ashley Whitham

Last weekend, six church employees who live in the Pacific Northwest joined with other Community of Christ employees and lay ministers who work in the Western field at Buckhorn Campgrounds. Under the leadership of Apostle Shandra Newcom and guest ministers Shane and Alli, we did the very hard work of visioning potential futures of the church. Representing GPNW were our Mission Center President Kim Naten, Financial Officer Donald Welch, Communications and Administrative Specialist Brooke Schlenker, Discipleship Formation Minister Ashley Whitham, Portland Congregation Pastor Daniel Rose, and USA Field Bishop Carrie Welch.

Now, as fun as the pictures look, this work weekend was rough on all of us. No matter how exciting it was to dream and imagine, it was also emotionally exhausting. There were tensions, frustrations, hurts and concerns shared of what the church has been, alongside our hope and passion for what the church could be. There were many times over the weekend when we’d look each other in the eyes and just say, “I’m so tired.”

Over the weekend, we were invited to set aside all that we know about what church is now, and dream: if we could do anything and know we couldn’t fail, what would we do? At first, we shared personal dreams, and they were amazing dreams! So many people in our church could dream giant, healing-the-world dreams! And most of them were still very doable. The next day, we split up into our mission center groups and discussed big dreams for our mission center. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to dream big with my teammates! When you just take away the fear of something not working, and open your heart to discerning where the Spirit can lead, big dreams happen.

In between a couple activities, I was playing around in my notebook and wrote the following:

Church is sacred joining with God…
in relationship
in mission
in learning
in play

We had been asked to set aside ‘church’ as it is, but my heart loves ‘church.’ To me, church wasn’t the problem, but the ways in which we continue to narrowly define church, squishing it into a box with a structure that doesn’t let it breathe – that’s the problem. So to help my heart that loves ‘church,’ I needed to think about what church should be. Church should be the people, not the structure. It is discovering our giftedness and calling in a safe space of people who are also learning and growing in their faith journeys. That is why I wrote the above statement.

My prayer coming away from the weekend is that the big dreams we’ve been discerning can ignite a spark in all our mission center – that our people, no matter their congregational or group involvement, will be excited about joining us in our dreaming. Let’s lead the Community of Christ into a new chapter of community-building and discernment. Let’s be the examples of how we can try something different, and it’s okay. Let’s step out and try, and not be held back by fear. The Spirit is calling us to dream something new!