College ministers find stillness, peace in Portland-area pre-assembly retreat

June 20, 2016

Portland

Two dozen people, most of them involved in college ministries, devoted 40 hours before the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to restoring their souls for the hard work of ministry at the UKirk Collegiate Summit.

The gathering, which ran from Thursday to Saturday, was free to men and women involved in collegiate ministry.

Jason Santos, the PC(USA)’s coordinator for spiritual formation, said the summit, held on the tranquil grounds of Menucha Retreat and Conference Center about 30 minutes east of Portland, produced “a sense of stillness, solitude and peace.”

The summit included time for fireside conversations, long walks, deep prayer and Taize-style worship, Santos said.

The center, located along the scenic Columbia River Gorge in Corbett, is an ecumenical, community-based mission of First Presbyterian Church in  Portland.

“I thought it was remarkable,” said Dave Behrs, vice president for enrollment management at San Francisco Theological Seminary, who attended part of the summit. “To spend 24 hours praying with these guys was awesome,” he said. “It’s probably the most important thing I could have done. The focus was on attention –  on the Lord, on others and on ourselves.”

Early on, participants paired up for walks during which they shared faith stories, then continued walking in reflective silence for 30 minutes.

The time around the fire was so successful that the participants didn’t want it to end, Santos  said.

“They lingered for about two hours,” he said. “Some got so comfortable they actually fell asleep.”

Campus ministry can be intense, he said, right up until the academic year concludes, in May or early June. Many campus ministers then get a few weeks off before returning to their duties in late August – except for those who agree to lead students on summertime trips.

“We saw our 40 hours together as people taking a deep breath of life, spirit and clean air,” Santos said. “I’m sure we’ll do it again” before the start of the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis, scheduled for June 16-23, 2018.

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