Annual Gathering 2023 Report

Highlights and Reflections from October 13th-15th 2023 at Camp Mack in Milford, IN

Annual Gathering 2023 brought MHF members together in beautiful Indiana to fellowship, sing, pray, and learn together. Continuing our “Five Life Standards” Project, we focused this weekend on the theme of Nurturing People but particularly explored how we nurture ourselves as healthcare providers in today’s very difficult healthcare environment.

Read below about the weekend, what we learned, and an announcement about our 80th Anniversary Gathering in September 2024! 

Gathering at Camp Mack in Milford, Indiana

In October we were delighted to return to Northern Indiana to hold Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship’s Annual Gathering.

Camp Mack, located in Milford, Indiana about 30 minutes from Goshen, hosted us in a newly renovated lodge alongside their lake. The fall leaves were on full display October 13-15th and I think it’s safe to say everyone enjoyed the view out over the lake along with the beautiful fall color. Although it was a bit of a rainy weekend, that certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying Camp amenities and only helped us appreciate the indoor wood stove in our space all the more – which was used both nights for roasting marshmallows and making s’mores!

Almost every Indiana-based participant has the same thing to say when arriving at Camp Mack: I can’t believe I didn’t know this was here! Their lodge was complete with plenty of comfortable bedrooms, two kitchens, and two large meeting areas that proved perfect for both large and small group meetings and even the pickiest among us declared the food very good!

On Friday afternoon the MHF Board gathered for our yearly in-person lunch. It’s always a great time of reconnecting outside of Zoom and sharing a bit more about our lives and recent happenings!

For Donna (Board President, Psychologist) that includes a great deal of biking and hiking and really enjoying the great outdoors during her retirement. Andrew (Administrator for MHF, Healthcare Practice Administrator) is currently taking courses at AMBS that are both challenging and enlightening. For Clair (Hospice Chaplain), that is being involved in a number of social movements including the Ohio Poor People’s Campaign, something he is deeply passionate about. Joann (Physician) is deeply involved in her congregation in North Baltimore, and keeps busy raising four children – one of whom joined us for the weekend and gifted us her violin-playing skills during our worship times! Elisa (Physician) is wrapping up her time serving as a family medicine doctor with an OB specialty in Arizona and will embark on a season of rest and discernment in the coming year – and she continues to pursue long hikes in the SouthWest and Colorado. Outside of MHF, Cate (Chaplain / Researcher) amicably resigned as pastor of Germantown Mennonite at the end of the summer to further work towards her PhD combining studies in theology and healthcare/medicine, and has been visiting friends and family as far away as Sweden.

Friday Evening: ‘Self-Care Is Not Enough’

Friday evening brought our first dinner together and group session. Joann, Andrew, and Clara (Joann’s daughter!), along with additions on Harmonica from Clair, provided song leading. Throughout the weekend Clair offered poems and words of worship as a way to ground each session.

For Fridays’ keynote, Cate presented the beginnings of some of her research regarding how faith-based providers find and maintain wholeness in their work in healthcare, particularly in light of the epidemic of provider burnout – and even more seriously, provider suicide. One aspect of Cate’s theory is that healthcare organizations have used encouragement for “self-care” as a solution to the provider burnout problem that allows them to eschew responsibility for untenable, traumatic, and unsupportive work environments and instead ‘blame’ those eperiencing burnout for not practicing enough or ‘right’ self-care. Cate reviewed a variety of extant research that suggests that certain types of self-care while they can have supportive functions, do not address workplace healthcare-specific burnout and trauma. Instead we need to look at what the research says is truly protective against burnout: nurture providers’ sense of calling (without abusing that sense of calling), creating accountable healthcare organizations that listen to employees and provide reasonable workloads, equitable and living-wage pay for all in healthcare, and creating communities of support such as MHF. A PDF of her presentation slides is available here.

Saturday: Much learning and fellowship!

On Saturday morning after another wonderful time of singing and worship led by Joann and company, we heard once again from Melinda Berry who has been joining us as we explore the “Five Life Standards for the Healing Professions” project. Malinda traced the history of the five life standards and encouraged us to think particularly about how we are called not only to nurture other people, but how Jesus calls us to nurture ourselves as well. Disease of meaninglessness – causes deep stress. She shared with us: “To follow Jesus and seek to serve Jesus carries with it an emotional signature of embracing the world the way God embraces it.” However, Mennonites in history have had a tendency to put aside our own needs. Malinda shared: “To do that in a functional way we Mennonites sometimes say ‘My Need is to Serve Others’. But is that a real need?” Jesus assumes by saying “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” that we are ourselves practicing a radical self-acceptance and love. This is at the heart of nurturing others in the five life standards, and how we need ot nurture ourselves through self-acceptance and love as healthcare providers.

After a wonderful lunch and some free time to enjoy Camp Mack in which many participants chose to walk by the lake despite a bit of rain, we gathered again this time to hear from Donna Minter – Board Chair on the subject of The Sanctuary Model. The Sanctuary Model is a model for organizations to be trauma-informed and be healing spaces both for their employees and those they serve. It has deep resonances with Anabaptist commitments and values – such as the 7 commitments of the Sanctaury Model:

  1. Nonviolence
  2. Emotional Intelligence
  3. Social Learning
  4. Democracy
  5. Open Communication
  6. Social Responsibility
  7. Growth and Change

The Sanctuary Model offers recognition that in the workplace, for many of us in MHF in the clinic or hospital, we are always doing emotional labor – figuring out when and how to express our emotions or keep them inside, and helping others do the same. Donna’s presentation was very well received and there was a lot of discussion afterwards. One question I (Cate) have thought about since Donna’s presentation: should MHF pursue becoming a Sanctuary organization in our own right?

For the evening session of Annual Gathering, instead of another presentation, we continued with singing and worship and then heard from a panel of MHF members and Board members on the theme: Broken System, Sovereign God. Although we had been talking about the deep brokenness of the healthcare system all weekend, particularly in how it cares for its own providers, for this panel we asked the question: Despite the brokenness in the system – how have you seen God at work and God’s sovereignty in your own practice and workspace?

Panelists explored moments that have made them come alive in their work even when the situation was very difficult, and explored how they deal with some of the inevitable spiritual questions that arise in witnessing so much suffering in healthcare. Elisa Troyer spoke about her emerging conviction that:

If God is big enough to be worthy of our worship He is big enough to hold our questions.

Clair and Elisa further explored the questions they have wrestled with and “given up on”. Instead of continuing to ask Did God cause this suffering? Or then Did God allow this suffering? Clair asks instead: What is God asking us to do together about this suffering?

Regarding God’s sovereignty – the panelists also explored their own decision-making and how critical it can feel in healthcare, affirming that “No decision I make can separate me from the love of God.”

Sunday Morning Worship

After more s’mores and conversation late into Saturday night, on Sunday morning after breakfast the group gathered one last time for a time of worship together. The band extended and provided wonderful music! Cate Desjardins preached on the story of Joseph in the moment he reunites with his brothers – preaching on the topic: Does Everything Happen For A Reason? After the sermon, we shared communion as is traditional at all MHF Annual Gatherings.

Finally, we wrapped up with one last lunch together!

This year’s Annual Gathering was truly a group effort by the Board of MHF and many who gave their time and talent. It was a joy to share with everyone there and I truly felt like it was a time of getting to know MHF members on a much more personal level and hear more vulnerable, deep sharing about the joys and struggles of serving in healthcare today.

Annual Gathering 2024 – 80th Anniversary of Mennonite Medical Association & Mennonite Nurses Association! 

We look forward with great anticipation to our 80th Anniversary Annual Gathering at Laurelville, September 27th-29th 2024! Please mark your calendars and watch for registration to open early in the New Year!






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