The Beecken Center Launches its 2019-2020 Season of Events

Ranging from a workshop with the author of the New York Times Best Seller The Shack, to a gathering that examines our relationship to the forests in God’s creation, to an Episcopal bishop talking about a “resurrection-shaped life,” to spiritual discernment, contemplative practices, and non-traditional worship, the Beecken Center’s 2019-2020 season of special events offers something for just about everyone interested in deepening their Christian journey. 

With its focus on faith, learning, and ministry, the Center will begin the month of September with a conference jointly hosted with the Center for Religion and Environment called “Deep Green Faith: Holy Forest Kinship.” Ideally situated on the campus of the University of the South―a certified Tennessee arboretum, with more than 120 different species of trees―this event is meant to explore connections between trees and faith. Attendees will hear a scientific perspective on the astonishing levels of communication happening beneath the bark of our forest-based neighbors and the impact those non-human kin have on us and our ecosystems.

From September 20-22, graduates and experienced mentors of Education for Ministry (EfM) are invited to gather on the bluff at St. Mary’s Sewanee to explore “Life in Christ/Praying in Christ” with the Rev. Julia Gatta, Ph.D., the Bishop Frank A. Juhan Professor of Pastoral Theology at the School of Theology. In this deeply experiential time of renewal, participants will examine various aspects of personal prayer and meditation, intercession, and other forms of Christian devotion. “Past EfM graduate retreats have reflected on the power of transformed lives and explored how knowing our personal strengths can help us discern gifts for ministry,” says executive director Karen M. Meridith. “This retreat promises to bring insight into the importance of grounding ministry in a life of spiritual practice.”

Those who enjoyed The Shack—the runaway bestselling book by Wm. Paul Young that later became a feature film—will be excited to learn that Young will be in Sewanee this November for the first of two FaithMatters offerings this season from the Beecken Center. His visit will begin with a public lecture on “Faith and The Shack” in All Saints’ Chapel the evening of Friday, Nov. 15, during which Young will explore why the novel found a world-wide audience with those “who are stuck somewhere between edgy and Jesus.” His Sewanee visit will conclude with an all-day workshop on Sat., Nov. 16, that will draw from another of Young’s books, Lies We Believe About God

To help churches become more spiritually vital and alive, the Beecken Center has developed a new continuing education offering called Engaging Ministry, geared toward clergy and lay church leaders. Offered in early 2020, its focus will be on “Practices of Prayer, Worship, and Community.” The two-part event begins on Jan. 30 and will be led by the Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham and Kate Eaton. A graduate of the School of Theology, Higginbotham is rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, GA, and co-editor of the upcoming book Contemplation and Community: A Gathering of Fresh Voices for a Living Tradition. In his opening workshop—“The Heart of Ministry: Deepening Practice, Deepening Community”—Higginbotham will guide participants in discovering the ways in which a focus on spiritual practices can deepen the lives of both individual members and entire church communities. The second workshop for Engaging Ministry begins Jan. 31 with Kate Eaton, president of Mishkhah, who will then lead attendees in “Entering the Mystery: Planning Non-Traditional Worship,” helping them explore the ways worship can fully engage the senses and open the heart through the arts, music, movement, and interaction.

The month of March features two events: “The Art of Teaching Spiritual Discernment” jointly offered with Listening Hearts Ministries and “Leading a Resurrection-Shaped Life” with Episcopal Bishop Jake Owensby of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana. “The Art of Teaching Spiritual Discernment” is a four-day intensive to train participants in the art of facilitating and mentoring spiritual discernment groups using the Listening Hearts approach. Held at the DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle, Tennessee, the retreat will include communal meditation activities, workshops that teach the practical aspects of teaching spiritual discernment, and a series of discernment sessions.

In his book A Resurrection-Shaped Life: Dying and Rising on Planet Earth, the Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby writes that, “We are all terribly fragile and already more than a little damaged, but God loves each of us too much to even think about discarding us. In the resurrection, we see that God is already mending fragile things like you and me. The result is breathtakingly beautiful: a resurrection-shaped life.” As the second FaithMatters offering in this season, “Living a Resurrection-Shaped Life” with Bishop Owensby will begin with a public lecture on Fri., March 6 in All Saints’ Chapel and conclude with an all-day workshop on Sat., March 7. Workshop participants will explore growing beyond our past, the meaning of suffering, mending loss and sorrow, and other themes from the book.

On April 21, the Beecken Center will co-host a Faith and Justice Summit with the Tennessee Faith & Justice Alliance, a program of the Tennessee Supreme Court.  The primary purpose of this event is to share information with faith leaders in Tennessee about the many free legal resources that are available to residents of the state so they can connect their community members to sources of help. In addition to the Beecken Center and the Tennessee Faith & Justice Alliance, this Summit will also include representatives from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and Sewanee’s Office of Civic Engagement and will target legal issues related to mental health and addiction.

In June of 2019, 150 people gathered in Sewanee for the Invite Welcome Connect Summit, giving attendees a chance to explore the ministry’s practical theological framework and comprehensive process for engaging communities in evangelism,  hospitality, and belonging. “God is the giver of all things, and the Holy Spirit instills the gift of deep wells of creativity within each of us,” notes Mary Parmer, program director. “Invite Welcome Connect invites us to be co-creators with God as we imagine the limitless possibilities for our congregations.” This season’s Invite Welcome Connect Summit will be held at the University June 10-12, 2020, and will again offer plenary speakers, workshop sessions, and other activities.

The Beecken Center’s 2019-2020 season will culminate on July 21-29 with SUMMA, the annual eight-day theological debate camp for high school students. While typically a diverse group, the past two camps have included students from as far away as China. The SUMMA experience—which revolves around “speaking the truth in love”—combines study, laughter, critical thinking, and well-reasoned arguments from both sides of every debate, and opens pathways deeper into Christian faith. It is entirely appropriate to end the season with such deepening of faith, as growing faith and transforming lives is core to the Beecken Center’s mission.

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