Joy-filled Women’s Ministries congress explores being “Chosen: For Such a Time as This”
British Union WM Congress focuses on Esther and her attributes of the Proverbs 31 woman: Courage, Faith, Prayer and Fasting, Wisdom, and Inner and Outer Beauty.
[United Kingdom] The British Union Conference (BUC) Women's Ministries Retreat is one opportunity every three to five years when women from throughout the Union come together for a festival of worship, fellowship, teaching and recreation.
This year the events over the weekend of October 13-15, 2018, at the Park Inn Hotel in Northampton, England, proved to be just as joyful. The sense of anticipation and excitement was at a height when more than 250 women converged during the registration period on the Friday afternoon. It's during this time of laughter and surprises that reunions are made and acquaintances are formed. It's a special moment.
They come with anticipation of a weekend away from the cares and routines of the week, and ready to engage in a truly inspiring program of activities designed to attend to the spiritual, mental, social, and physical dimensions of each person. The weekend was prepared and planned by BUC Health, Women's Ministries and Adventist Community Services director Sharon Platt-McDonald and her committed team, who worked hard behind the scenes to plan and manage a large convocation.
Park Inn Hotel was the perfect choice with beautiful surroundings, excellent leisure facilities and a staff of workers who made the whole weekend special for their guests.
Despite many travelling from as far afield as Glasgow, Scotland, and some flying in from Ireland, the travelling fatigue did not hamper anyone from ensuring they were present at the opening meeting which began after the evening meal.
Sharon Platt-McDonald gave greetings and welcomed all, including the Conference and Union officers and directors who were present. North England Conference President Pastor Richard Jackson spoke on behalf of the Conference. Women's Ministries counterpart Conference leaders, Sister Beula Plunkett from the North England Conference and Pastor Maslin Holness from the South England Conference also gave their greetings.
In the introductions, Sharon highlighted the theme for the weekend, “Chosen: For Such a Time as This,” and highlighted the experiences of Queen Esther and the relevance of her life for the woman of today.
The conference room was decorated with beautifully colored arrangements of an oriental feel on each of the 40 circular tables. The front of the hall contained seven long tables that displayed key aspects of Esther's attributes, namely: Courage, Faith, Prayer and Fasting, Wisdom, and Inner and Outer Beauty. Additionally, two exhibits captioned 'Seasons' and 'Bride-In-Waiting' (with an accompanying bridal table complete with wedding gown and cake) signaled 21st Century messages for the life stages women encounter in their spiritual, emotional, social and relational lives. A key exhibit was the 'Esther gown' handmade by Maxine Dennis in rich gold fabrics befitting a queen.
Raquel Costa Arrais, GC Women's Ministries associate director, was the guest speaker for the weekend. Any tiredness from the long day's travel was soon dissipated due to her engaging and energetic style of message delivery. Her humor and contagious, radiant personality ensured each one followed her message and responded enthusiastically when she touched on words of truth.
Sabbath morning welcomed us to worship with an unseasonal warm and bright day, which contributed to a feeling of well-being and happiness of the guests. Morning worship given by Elder June Thompson at 7:30 A.M. began the day’s events. Further presentations, workshops, and a specially designed location as a prayer room added to the enjoyment and blessing of the day. Beulah Plunkett's exposition on Esther and Halcy-Ann Platt and Sharon Platt-McDonalds's 'Seasons' presentation gave ample opportunity for audience participation and reflection. There was something for everyone. Raquel Arrais gave her second presentation for the worship hour on the topic "Chosen: Qualified and Filled." The comments of "truly inspiring" and "wonderful and spiritual" had already become the phrases expressed during the break for Sabbath lunch.
The afternoon catered for those who preferred to rest, walk, or socialize. The informal setting provided a relaxed environment to absorb and take in all that was being presented.
After time for relaxation, the afternoon session began with the official opening of the Esther Institute of Excellence (EIE). Sharon shared the vision behind this important initiative that hopefully will become a legacy to empower and support women in their spiritual and holistic needs. The dedicatory prayer was offered by Karen Plumb.
Saturday's evening program was the banquet dinner. The conference room was redecorated by the Park Inn staff to provide a dim-lit dining atmosphere that wooed each one. The dress code for the evening was the suggestion for each woman to dress in the colors of her country's national costume. The entrance into the dining room was done alphabetically by country which led to an international gathering of women holding flags and cheering enthusiastically as each country was introduced. This year the Zimbabweans who were in full force expressed their presence by way of a beautiful rendition of their local welcome song.
All countries were recognized, and the rest of the evening was made special by musical items, recitals, and the wit of Pastor Isaac Liburd—MC extraordinaire.
With the evening in full swing, it seemed like people did not want to leave. They had plenty of opportunities for pictures, various exhibitions, and a professional photographer with a photo booth.
Some might think that with all the Sabbath activities going on, Sunday morning would be an opportune time to catch up with sleep, but not the women at this retreat! But no, the 7:00 A.M. Zumba exercise led by Eugenie Burton was a full class.
Sunday morning’s prayer and praise session began the day, providing a time for prayer requests, and Raquel Arrais shared further presentations on Women's Ministries Global Impact day. The closing keynote address was on the topic 'Courage to Stand: ONE THING' which was a rallying call for women to take their stand for God and to be used by Him to engage in new and exciting forms of ministry. An array of workshops addressing issues such as leadership, trauma, ministry boxes, writing skills, creative ministry, and health, received positive appraisals from the attendees. The feedback session allowed participants to share what they had learned in the workshops and how they would use it in their personal and church life. Sharon Platt-McDonald concluded the successful weekend with thanks and appreciation.
Fulfilling the objective for women to recognize the call of God on their lives and to realize they are chosen for a purpose in their varying life seasons, the retreat gave women the impetus they needed to return with a renewed energy to serve their churches and communities. For this we give God thanks.
Contributed by Sharon Platt-McDonald, WM director, British Union Conference, Trans-European Division
Published in Mosaic, Spring 2018