5-Day Academy offers 'light for the world, light for each other'

January 05, 2015

WOODWORTH -- Participants will focus on "Missional Living for the Hope of the World" at the Louisiana 5-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation slated for Feb 8-13 at The Wesley Center in Woodworth.
Academy founder Rev. Donnie Wilkinson, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Alexandria, explains “missional living” by describing it as “a way of living in community together -- that community of spiritual practices -- a community that reaches out in compassion to the world, a community that's committed to justice.”

“But anytime there is community, there are people, and whenever you have more than one person, you have interpersonal relational dynamics," he added.

Faculty members Elaine Heath from Perkins School of Theology and Wil Hernandez from the Henri Nouwen Legacy Society will address how we can live in a way that provides hope for the world.

The 5-Day Academy is an off-shoot of the Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation that began in 1983. The Upper Room retreat, however, meets eight times over a two-year period. In founding the 5-Day version in Louisiana, Wilkinson wanted to give people a taste of the Upper Room retreat's rhythm of study, prayer, worship and reflection to those who cannot afford the time or cost to attend the Upper Room's retreat.

Dr. Elaine Heath and Dr. Wil Hernandez are both widely sought speakers and authors, Wilkinson said.

"Elaine will be talking about what it means, a vision of life for living in community with others, what that might look like," he said, adding she will present "a vision for ways that individuals can participate in communities, start new communities that are based on a contemplative vision of the world, a way rooted in prayer, in Scripture reading, in service and compassion."

Wilkinson said that Hernandez will be "talking about the ways that we can individually relate to other people and help them experience God working in their lives, being a spiritual companion to others ... telling what ways we can partner with individuals."

"We have the community relationship and then also the individual relationship," he noted. "Light for the world; light for each other."

One of Henri Nouwen's works, "The Return of the Prodigal Son," was 66th on a list of 100 best Christian books cited by "The Church Times," an independent Anglican weekly newspaper founded in 1863. "Dr. Hernandez is going to be sharing with the Academy insights, wisdom, from the life and teaching of Henri Nouwen," Wilkinson said.

"Henri Nouwen was one of the most influential spiritual writers of the 20th century. His books played a very important role in my own discernment of my call to ministry, reading books like 'The Prodigal Son' and 'With Open Hands' and, a great book, 'Letters to Marc About Jesus: Living a Spiritual Life in a Material World,' primarily on prayer," Wilkinson added.

"God used those books in a powerful way to open my heart and mind up to the movement of the Spirit in my own life. Henri Nouwen continues to touch people through his writings -- they have a timeless sort of quality and in 20, 30, 40, 50 years, people will be reading Henri Nouwen's books."

Nouwen left teaching at an Ivy League school to follow the call of Jesus and went to live in Canada's L’Arche community, part of a network of communities that are made up of people with profound physical and developmental issues, Wilkinson said, acknowledging such concerns are also addressed by First United Methodist Church of Alexandria's Buddy Camp and Buddy Church ministries.

Wilkinson said that Heath's book, "The Mystic Way of Evangelism," has "played an enormous role in helping the church discover a new yet ancient way of introducing people to Christ ... not by trying to sell them Jesus but by allowing Christ to transform our own hearts, so that people ask what is it about you, what is this I see in you, I want to experience that for myself, so it's not marketing Jesus, it's living Jesus, in a way that is winsome, in a way that draws others," he said.

Last year's 5-Day Academy retreat drew 34 attendees, both clergy and lay people from various denominations who ranged from their 40s up to 95 in age.

Returning in 2015 is Elise Eslinger of Dayton, Ohio, compiler and editor of the Upper Room Worshipbook, who served as worship/music coordinator for the 5-Day Academy in 2014. "She's fabulous, she is an incredible worship leader," Wilkinson said.

For more information about the upcoming Louisiana 5-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, please go online to  or contact Rev. Wilkinson by email at or call (318) 542-1022.

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