Survival School — more than meets the eye


Survival School … As I read the notice in The Miscellany, I remembered my own experience. That is the story I would like to share with you. When I first saw the notice last year, my curiosity was captured by this unique management seminar. I clipped it out and placed it in my file “interesting stuff that I may never see or do” along with other ideas and recipes which have yet to resurface. By coincidence, within a month, church bulletins announced a meeting for the reopening of a Birthright pregnancy center. My curious nature now led me to a dedicated group of ladies with a good cause but lacking some essentials for starting an organization — money, energy, people and leaders. Brain damaged by a recent car accident, I offered to co-direct this project, reluctantly. Within one week, there was only one director. Slightly perplexed with the unique challenge, I asked, “Lord! Where do I even begin?” Vaguely remembering the key words in the survival notice, management and volunteers, I suggested the course. I was desperate. Somehow, I located the obscure clipping, called for information and even asked for reduced fees for our unfinanced and nonexistent center. They generously agreed, and my reluctant journey began.

Entering the winding road at Marywood Retreat Center in Jacksonville, Fla., a peacefulness surrounded me. I was not just called, but pulled there. As the grounds unfolded before me, I admired the beautiful scene; moss-draped oaks surrounded Spanish-style buildings and a chapel created a magnificent view on the water’s edge. I resisted my desire to run for the water and registered instead.

After introduction of the group of 40 participants, we were asked to describe our ministries. I didn’t even know what ministry was. “Oh-no, this beautiful place, but all wrong,” I thought. With apology, I explained that I didn’t have a ministry, but I needed the organizational and leadership skills of this seminar to help start a pregnancy center. Either they liked the idea of Birthright or felt sorry that I had just traveled six hours. I was welcomed. Surrounded by this spirited, active and experienced group of lay ministers and priests, I felt green and small. The faith community of St. Augustine was so vibrant and strong that I realized Charleston, like myself, was a spiritual infant. After many “Oh my,” “good luck” and “God bless, dear” it was obvious they thought attempting to start a center from nothing and with nothing was a crazy idea. But dire circumstances never stopped me from attempting the seemingly impossible before. So my training began.

For five days, eight hours a day, we self-evaluated, listened, shared, experienced and applied lessons. They quietly accommodated each special need. There was more than learning the most effective management principles used by Fortune 500 companies. That alone would have been worth the time and money for the seminar.

There were lessons for all leaders of our homes, churches, and businesses in building a community of Christ. We were called to be servant leaders. As Christians, compelled to become active ministers in every aspect of our lives.

There was something that could not be learned from the manuals, handouts and group projects. It could only be experienced. It was the example of the awesome four, the most talented leaders I was blessed to meet. During my 10 years of education at the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina, I experienced many teachers. This gifted group was extraordinary in talent, energy, dedication and depth of Spirit. They were more than I could ever dream of becoming.

Laughter abound at the center as the energy grew. During impromptu evening sessions, we shared fellowship, singing and storytelling. It was simply amazing to discover that these four tremendously talented and busy mentors volunteer their time to present these seminars around the country. They were on a mission. I felt grateful for their gifts.

Waiting for my ride at the end of the week, I watched as the group departed and the Spirit-filled energy was again replaced by peaceful silence. Sadly, I said good-bye to the awesome four. As Joe, one of the four inspiring facilitators, stood with hands clasped in an earnest plea, a compelling voice, which seemed to come from a a source beyond Joe’s lips, reached out to me, “Send them to me!” I promised I would.

In solitude, there was time to reflect on the week. Survival School was one of my greatest blessings. Aside from new leadership skills, I was leaving with a new life of ministry knowing I must also join in building God’s community. Driving out through the winding road, the trees behind me closed like curtains on the beautiful retreat center. I was bursting with the excitement of the Holy Spirit, a vision and a mission.

Now, one year later, we have successfully built a Birthright center serving many women and their babies each month. Through the spirit of wonderful men and women, we are bridging different parishes, faiths and leaders in our community with a common vision. We are not just surviving, together we are reaching out the loving arms of Christ throughout the community and beyond. Survival School provided the blueprint. Whenever I falter, retrieving the survival manual and reflecting on the awesome four, I find guidance in prayer and their example. With deep admiration and gratitude I remember my experience at Survival School and Joe’s words:

Survival School is for all leaders, all servants of God. You are called to receive a tremendous blessing. It’s much more than a management seminar or spiritual retreat. Survival School is a vision and a mission. My friend, look toward Jerusalem, together we will build the road. Go.

Lucy Inabnett is director of Birthright of Charleston. For details on the Survival School, “A Vision of Ministry in the Church of Today,” scheduled for Aug. 1-6, contact the Marywood Retreat Center, 1714-5 State Road 13, Jacksonville, FL 32259-9253, (904) 287-2525.