“Hopeful! Enlightening! Inspiring!”
It must be the skeptic in me. Nearly every time I read a testimony about a workshop, camp, retreat or similar event hosted by my church and nearly every word is a superlative followed by an exclamation mark, I can’t help thinking: Yeah, but what was it really like?
While I may not be one to get overly excited about stuff, I really did have a hopeful, enlightening and inspiring experience at the Divine Principle 7-day workshop held in Las Vegas in late May 2015.
While driving to Vegas from California, I received a text message from the workshop staff, asking me to be a group leader. Normally I would have declined such an offer, but I had made up my mind to be positive and supportive so I replied yes, I could do that.
I got really lost on the way, and ran into a huge rock that scraped the underside of my car, all of which made me tired and irritable. But I kept my cool and before long I reached my destination, the Mount Charleston Resort, in the mountains a little north of downtown Las Vegas. I picked up a room key at the front desk and walked upstairs.
When I saw my room and roommates I was really grateful that I had brought along a sleeping bag and pad, because there was only a queen-size bed and there were three of us; and even at two hundred pounds, I was the trim guy.
After an anxious night of trying to sleep but worrying that the combined snoring of myself and my co-tenants might trigger a major earthquake, I went downstairs to the lobby and found my way to the large room where most of the workshop was to take place.
I’ve been to quite a few church workshops and marriage enrichment seminars held in a variety of locations, from barns to first-rate hotels, but this was the first time I attended an event in what appeared to be a large cocktail lounge.
(Maybe it’s a trend, because recently I visited the Gospel Christian Center that used to be the Royal Oak Tavern in my old neighborhood of Linda, CA.) Gospel Christian Center
The room, with its multilevel seating, bark-coated logs supporting the roof and a large bar, was a welcome change from the average featureless hotel conference room.
After an introduction by the workshop organizers Naokimi Ushiroda and Terresa Ferrete, the group leaders introduced themselves to the crowd of about one hundred and fifty participants, who then had to choose whose team they wanted to be on.
What if no one picks me? I worried. But luckily, quite a few people, young and old, asked if they could join me. In fact, I had to turn some folks away because my group was too large. I was especially happy to see our ethnic makeup would be quite diverse.
Throughout the week we heard from various speakers whose styles ranged broadly, from Gerry Servito, with his heartfelt and emotion-filled talks about God’s grieving heart, to Pastor Kevin Thompson’s often humorous but deep presentations on the root of sin.
Dr Michael Balcomb, Teresa Ferrete, Reverends Andrew Compton, Miilhan Stephens and Mari Curry also gave presentations on various segments of Divine Principle (DP) such as Resurrection, Predestination, Christology and The Purpose of the Messiah.
After each twenty to thirty minute talk, we studied the DP within our small groups and discussed its contents and the gist of the lecture.
At the end of each day, the group leaders gathered to share their experiences, offer advice and reflect. Each person was asked to say two words about the day. One word I often chose was “hopeful”, because I was consistently impressed with the people I met, young and old.
During mealtimes, I made special effort to always sit near someone new. I found the young people to be articulate and engaging, which gave me hope for the future of the Unification Movement.
I also enjoyed talking with many of the older members and hearing about how and why they joined the Unification Church. When someone with a Ph.D. in history told me he was so intrigued when he first heard the “Parallels of Human History” that he eventually joined the church; or when an engineer explained how “The Principles of Creation” presentation helped him to believe in God, it affirmed my own decision to embrace the teachings of Sun Myung Moon.
The spiritual education, social interaction, morning exercise on the cliff-side deck, inspirational music, good food, time in creation and other joyous activities made for a pleasant workshop experience. However I did have a few reservations.
For one, I found it a bit too “Kumbaya” for my personal taste to embrace shoulder-to-shoulder whenever a slow song was being sung, and preferred standing in the back of the room until the music was over. Although I did join in a few times, inevitably I felt uncomfortable, which might have something to do with my Norwegian/Lutheran ancestry.
I also felt kind of judged when sprightly sixty-three-year-old Gerry Servito jumped up onto a four-foot-high wall and started dancing around. If that wasn’t enough, while he was teaching us some martial arts exercises, he stood straight up from a lotus position, without help AND without using his hands. Sheesh!
One thing that seemed a little out of place was the presentation given by the Universal Peace Academy (UPA), which is headquartered in Korea, and is a graduate program for educating future leaders of the Unification Movement and other organizations. Personally I would have preferred an option to learn about UPA in a break-out session. Just having Yuri Sato, a UPA student, on my team and seeing the enthusiasm of Takakuni Onozawa, another cadet, was plenty of advertising for the benefits of such training.
But all-in-all, the workshop definitely was good. Pardon me, great! I’m not sure what inspired me to attend but I’m certainly glad I did.
Unfortunately, I had to leave a couple of days early because of my dad’s ill health. As I drove north on Hwy 98 in the early morning darkness and looked in my rear-view-mirror at the bright lights of Las Vegas, I thought back to nearly forty years ago when I was preparing to move to Vegas. I was sitting in another cocktail lounge, in South Lake Tahoe, while friends threw me a going-away party. A band was playing the song, Las Vegas ain’t no place for a poor boy like me, which was appropriate because back then, Vegas was no place for me.
However this time, even though it was short, I felt I was meant to be there. I hope everyone else at that workshop felt the same.
* Photos courtesy Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.