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UMM Spiritual Congress: Finding Solutions to the Challenges of Our Time

Posted: September 29 2020 at 01:16 PM
Author: John Maxson, UMM


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Randy Lawrence, Kingswood United Methodist Church and Barrington United Methodist Church, created and directed the Zoom production, a complex job because speakers' videos, live speakers, and music videos were all integrated.

The United Methodist Men’s online Spiritual Congress 2020 brought clergy and laity together to hear top leaders discuss ways to mitigate and eventually eliminate racism. Some speakers provided an overview; others gave concrete ways to improve understanding, build trust, and break down barriers.

Organized by the NIC United Methodist Men, 184 men and women registered for the program, which went from 9:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 19, 2020. Craig McGregor, Director of the Spiritual Congress Planning Team, led a core group consisting of Paul Callighan, George Groves, David Holland, Herb John, Jim Loeppert, Mark Lubbock, John Maxson, and Eugene Williams. Other key players included Randy Lawrence, who directed and produced the Zoom webinar, and Arnold Rivera, who moderated the program, adding perspective and continuity between speakers.

Key leaders were asked what role men of the 360 United Methodist Churches in northern Illinois could play to achieve the Spiritual Congress' goal. Presenters included (in order of appearance) Mississippi Bishop James Swanson, Rev. Caleb Hong, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Catholic Priest, and Activist Father Michael Pfleger, Congressman Danny Davis, Aurora District Superintendent Rev. Jeffry Bross, Illinois Attorney General Kwami Raoul, Chicago Southern District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Jacques Conway, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Director of the UMM Center for Scouting Ministries Steven Scheid, UMM General Secretary Gilbert Hanke, NIC Bishop Sally Dyck, and Dr. Rev. Norval Brown. NIC UMM President George Groves concluded the event with an overview and his perspective on the day.

Each speaker approached the subject in a different way. In aggregate, common themes supported men engaging in programs that build trust, unify people of all races and socio-economic backgrounds, and bring men together to advance the Christian values of love, respect, and assisting those in need. Engaging youth and younger adults in these initiatives were viewed as a priority. NIC churches are diverse in many ways, some in the most affluent communities in America with supportive congregations and others in economically challenged regions barely getting by. Speakers suggested that partnerships, sharing, mutual respect, and bridge-building are ways to raise the tide that lifts all boats.

NIC UMM Prayer Advocate Herb John, with the assistance of Craig McGregor and Eugene Williams, conducted the “Sunrise at the Point” prayer meeting beginning at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. This traditional follow-up to the Spiritual Congress gave participants the opportunity to reflect on their experience from the day before and pray for the effective implementation of programs inspired by the speakers.

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Arnold Rivera, Redeemer of Calvary United Methodist Church, wearing his red United Methodist Men's vest, moderated the program, adding information and perspective between speakers and music.

The Spiritual Congress was the largest, most ambitious event undertaken by the United Methodist Men in many years, proving that the pandemic need not lead to cancelled or smaller events. Though the annual Spiritual Congress is generally held at Conference Point on beautiful Lake Geneva, the lack of face-to-face interaction and camaraderie was made up for by extra-engaging presentations by highly qualified authorities in their respective fields. 

The online Spiritual Congress 2020 was recorded and will be available to watch at www.NICUMM.org soon. Note that the Spiritual Congress included music from selected churches across the conference and due to licensing restrictions, this has been taken out of the recorded version of the event. 

The Elgin District closely won the distinction of being the best-represented district at the event. The three top districts were Elgin (40 registrations), Chicago Southern District (39 registrations), and Aurora District (33 registrations).  

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