Thirty-nine pilgrims across six state lines, both clergy and laity, attended the 2016 Five-Day Spiritual Academy on April 3-8 at the Wesley Center.
Presenter Dr. Roberta Bondi led the way into Entering the Silence while Dr. Michael Battle led the group into Engaging the World, looking at spirituality and community in terms of reconciliation.
Dianne Wilkinson, registrar, said this was a particularly successful Five-Day Academy because “of the stretch that the presenters provided as we looked at going deeper in our relationship with God through looking at the Desert Fathers. The concepts of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace were far wider and deeper than I’ve explored.”
Dr. Bondi, a former professor at Candler School of Theology, is the author of several books looking at prayer and the lives of the Desert Fathers.
“Working with this material is life-giving, or at least it has been for me and the people I’ve taught,” Bondi said. “That’s why I’m attracted to this material—the focus on openness and gentleness and the sense that being a Christian has nothing to doing with passing judgment on people.”
Dr. Battle graduated from Duke University with a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1989. He has an S.T.M. from Yale and a Ph.D. from Duke. He was born in New Orleans and returned there in 2006 to lead a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A graduate of Duke University with an M.Div. from Princeton, Battle has written nine books. He was ordained by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and spent two years at the side of one of the most distinguished and influential leaders in South African history.
But he sees himself first and foremost as a reconciler. “I remember when I was in the seventh grade and I would see my friends fighting in the hallway and I had never seen them like that before, it’s just something that is in humans. Something in me, when I first encountered that, sparked that need for reconciliation. Also, just trying to understand the way the world is. I don’t have to accept this as a static thing. I can help make things better in the world because I have lived in it.”
Elise Eslinger served as musician and worship leader. She was compiler and editor for the original Upper Room Worship Book published in 1985, and for new editions released in 2006 and 2007.
Wilkinson said that even though this Five-Day Academy was successful, next year’s, which is April 23-27, could be more so. “We’d like to get more lay people involved with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” Wilkinson. “To do that, we need to have everyone talking about their experience.”
Pictured at this year’s event are Pictured, from left, are Academy presenter Rev. Michael Battle, the Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society at General Seminary; Dr. Jane Riecke, senior pastor of University UMC in Baton Rouge; Academy presenter Dr. Roberta Bondi, Professor Emerita of Church History at Candler School of Theology at Emory University; and Betty Rhodes, a certified lay minister in the New Orleans District.