Powell speaks on enthusiasm, empowerment, encouragement, engagement as older adults gather for largest retreat in years
By Jessica Brodie
MYRTLE BEACH—There’s a difference between knowing about God and knowing God, and between knowing God and having a real, honest relationship with God—the kind of relationship Moses shared with Him, where they could talk with each other face-to-face like true friends.
If we can open ourselves up to that sort of relationship, if we can have real dialogue with our heavenly maker, then our lives can be transformed.
The Rev. Rodney Powell spoke on that and more as seniors across the South Carolina Conference gathered for the annual Older Adult Retreat, held Feb. 3-5 in Myrtle Beach.
Before the largest crowd the retreat has seen in years, Powell brought a message throughout the three days on “Beginning the Year with EEEEs”—empowerment, enthusiasm, encouragement and engagement from an older adult’s spiritual perspective.
Wednesday night, as the retreat’s lineup built to its crescendo, Powell’s message focused on how having genuine enthusiasm can allow us to go deeper with God.
Telling a joke about a poker-playing dog who gives away his tricks “because every time he gets a good hand, he wags his tail,” Powell related that to how we should be living as Christians.
“If God is present in our lives, it ought to make a difference,” said Powell, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Easley, noting that if we are truly intimate with God, it will be obvious. “It ought to make our tails wag so others can see.”
Powell noted that enthusiasm in the Greek translation literally means “a little God on the inside,” but the word later began to take on a negative connotation, akin to demon possession. Even the Wesleys, founders of Methodism, were accused of being enthused, as though it were a bad thing.
“Back then you were either high church or holy rollers, no in between, but the Wesleys said real faith is head and heart, high church and enthusiastic worship,” Powell said.
As Powell noted, Exodus 33 illuminates conversations between Moses and God, showing how their relationship is so real that Moses speaks with God as a man would speak to his friend, and how, after his people made a golden calf, Moses got angry, ran straight back to God and demanded, just as he would a typical friend, “Did you see what your people are doing?!”
“That’s a wonderful directive for us about prayer!” Powell said to the packed room. “Why can we not open up our hearts and minds and talk to God like we talk to one another?”
After all, prayer should be honest, he said.
“You don’t have to say, ‘Oh, God, my life is so wonderful,’” Powell said; if it’s joy you’re experiencing, let it come out. If you’re bewildered, let it come out. “So many times in pastoral care I ask, ‘Have you talked to God about it?’ They say, ‘I don’t feel like talking to God.’ I say, ‘Have you told God you don’t feel like talking about it?’”
Powell noted that when Jesus died on the cross and the curtain tore to the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the temple, that tear didn’t just signify something major had occurred. It symbolized that we now have absolute access to God.
“We have the opportunity to go right to the heart of God,” he said. “How? We pray!”
Powell also shared wisdom on empowerment, encouragement and engagement throughout the three-day retreat, which was peppered with plenty of fun time, Bible study, fellowship opportunities and more.
The true Jesus
Furthering Powell’s points of a real relationship with God, the Rev. Cathy Joens led a Bible study Wednesday that discussed how Jesus is the way, truth and life for us today, not just when He walked the earth as a man. So many times, we have these images of Jesus that are perhaps off base: Jesus so clean and well manicured, wearing a pristine white robe.
“But I share another image of Jesus with you: Jesus walking in the desert for miles, rained on, with unkempt hair and beard, dirty robe and feet. Jesus was about the work of the people; He was stressed, sweating blood,” Joens shared. “We want to see Jesus with long dark hair and a manicured beard, but Jesus was a man who came down to do the messy work of the Gospel.”
He was real—just as our relationship with God should be, the retreat emphasized.
A good-natured roast
A highlight of the retreat was honoring the work of Betty Shuler, longtime event chair who stepped down this year. Retreat organizers surprised her with a good-natured “roast” during the Senior Showcase talent show, dressing up as various personas Shuler had taken on over the years in trying to liven up festivities at the retreat. “We love Betty,” chanted Joens with Ruth Hughes to wild applause for the much-loved Shuler.
“As long as anyone remembers me, it will probably be as ‘Motorcycle Mom’ at the very first showcase,” Shuler told the Advocate, noting she is truly grateful and overwhelmed by all the love and expressions of gratitude for her service to the older adult ministry.
Connecting with others
Shuler and other organizers said this year’s retreat was one of their best ever, with significantly increased attendance—not to mention the addition of Powell, who they called a “great speaker.”
Alfa Tisdale, event co-chair, said everything went extremely well, and Powell’s messages have stuck with her. The Rev. James Grubb, convener for South Carolina Conference Older Adult Ministries, said last year, they had 100 attendees, but this year, more than 250 had registered. They also had a lot of younger older adults than in the past.
He said when people retire, some adjust very well, but some do poorly. Socialization is one of several factors of “successful aging,” he noted, and said events like the Older Adult Retreat give people the opportunity to connect socially with others and enrich their lives.
“Older adult ministries is part of the connection,” Grubb said. “It provides an outlet.”
He and the rest of the older adults team are hoping to bring similar gatherings to the district level. Spartanburg and Columbia districts both do successful older adult gatherings, and Grubb hopes to build on those and others to help older adults connect across South Carolina throughout the year.
Joy Bruner, member of Chapin UMC, Chapin, was a first-time attendee of what she called “a fabulous retreat” and said she will definitely be back.
“I thoroughly enjoyed every single moment—the variety of things to do, the messages—and I plan to stay till the very end,” Bruner said. “I’m meeting people beyond the realm of my own church.”
Rounding out the fun
This year’s retreat also featured popular activities that keep many coming back for more. The always-popular sing-along led by the Rev. Paul Frey featured favorite hymns like “Emmanuel,” “Surely the Presence of the Lord Is in this Place” and “Spirit of the Living God.”
Hughes led recreation at various times throughout the three-day event, emphasizing stretching, line dancing and other fun to keep the body limber and the heart light. Wednesday night saw the room filled laughter as dozens learned to do the Cupid Shuffle, the Wobble and even the hora (circle) dance set to the Israeli folk song Hava Nagila.
The Senior Showcase on Wednesday featured talent from a variety of older adults. Paulina Roubaud received fervent applause for her recitation of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” The Rev. Don Studebaker, pastor of the Trinity-Limestone Charge in North, showcased his guitar and singing gifts with “Wore Out” and “People Need the Lord.” Buckhead UMC performed a group rendition of Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” and an “Adam and Eve in South Carolina” skit had the audience laughing. Other acts, including singing, a piano performance and a silly handbell choir skit rounded out the fun.
Up next: April mission event and the 2016 retreat
Next, older adult ministry leaders are preparing for the annual Older Adult Mission Event, set for April 27-30. The team will work on St. Mark UMC, Pacolet, scraping and painting walls, doing carpentry and plumbing, planting shrubbery, doing light yard work and more. All are welcome, no matter their skill level. The registration fee is $25 including meals; lodging is separate (a group rate is available at the Quality Inn in Spartanburg). For more information or questions about the mission event, contact the Rev. Mary Green at email@example.com or 803-338-0538, or download the brochure at www.umcsc.org.
Leaders are also planning now for next year’s retreat, set for Feb. 2-4, 2016, in Myrtle Beach. The speaker will be the acclaimed Dr. Walter Kimbrough, well known for his ministry of evangelism, pastoral care, teaching, preaching and community service. He has provided leadership at all levels of The United Methodist Church in both Northern Illinois and North Georgia.
For more on United Methodist older adult ministries in South Carolina, visit www.umcsc.org.