FRUITLAND PARK — The Wesley Clergy Suite at the Life Enrichment Center opened last fall and just in time for Karen MacDuff, senior pastor at United Methodist Temple, Lakeland. She was at the end of a medical leave following a difficult appointment and had just contacted Shade and Fresh Water, an arm of the Florida Conference that provides transformative and restorative experiences for individuals professionally associated with the conference.
“I had been fighting for my life,” recalled MacDuff, “and the minute I walked in, I felt wrapped in love. Everything in that suite is about rest, renewal, being with God and wholeness.”
|Pastor Karen MacDuff relaxing in the clergy suite. Photo by Mary Ann DeSantis|
MacDuff was the first guest to use the Wesley Clergy Suite, a special apartment designed to be an “oasis” for silence, solitude and spiritual direction. The Life Enrichment Center has 200 lodging rooms for adult retreats, but the clergy suite is more than a room. It’s a tastefully decorated suite with a full kitchen, living room and well-appointed bedroom. The second-floor unit looks out over Lake Griffin, one of Florida’s most picturesque fresh-water lakes surrounded by live oaks covered in Spanish moss – an apt setting for the suite created by Shade and Fresh Water.
“Shade and Fresh Water saw the beauty of the place,” said Lucy Wray, who spearheaded the drive to create the Wesley Clergy Suite. Wray is co-chairperson of Shade and Fresh Water, an advance special of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. The organization’s vision is to provide a transformative sanctuary for individuals and their families who are professionally associated with the conference.
“About two years ago, we were having a board retreat meeting there, and they had recently finished the Bishop’s suite. I was tasked with the possibility of creating a clergy suite,” Wray said.
Wray went to work finding donors to pay for the $18,000 in renovations that were needed to transform an under-used conference room with adjoining living room. By the spring of 2015, plans were underway and work was completed in late September – mostly by volunteers from area Methodist churches and the LEC’s “work camp,” as the RVers who use the property in exchange for volunteering are called.
“The former unit had been wasted space and was rarely used,” said Jess Schload, director of the Life Enrichment Center. “We are thrilled with the new suite because we had been looking for ways to partner with the Conference to serve and help pastors.”
The partnership allows Shade and Fresh Water to have exclusive use of the suite because the organization provided the renovations, appliances, and furnishings. The LEC provides housekeeping service and maintenance as needed.
“We have an agreement for three years; after that, we’ll have to pay a very nominal housekeeping fee,” explained Wray. “It’s strictly a ministerial partnership. We both understand the vision of Shade and Fresh Water.”
That vision included providing a space where clergy can have uninterrupted time to reconnect with God and reflect on their ministries. While staying at the suite, guests have full access to the 160-acre LEC property, which includes a prayer chapel, an azalea-lined prayer labyrinth and access to canoes.
“I spent a lot of time on grounds. I walked the prayer labyrinth every day and sat along the water’s edge in the large swings,” said MacDuff. “Everything is so beautiful and pleasing to the senses that you have nothing on your mind but to be in touch with God.”
Guests pay $50 to use the apartment, funds used to cover the reservation and to provide two sessions with a spiritual director from Shade and Fresh Water.
“I know some clergy may be leery of having a spiritual director, but it was completely confidential and extremely helpful,” added MacDuff, who planned to return for a second visit after Easter. “This was one of best experiences I’ve ever had.”
MacDuff was equally impressed with the suite, which was decorated by Connie Bartosiewicz, LEC group services manager. The soft colors and seashore motif were designed to create a relaxing environment.
“I was especially fascinated by the unique hour glass on the coffee table,” said MacDuff. “It was two-hour glass and I used it for meditation.”
The Wesley Clergy Suite is available to anyone professionally associated with the Florida Conference. Most guests stay three-to-five days for personal retreats, which Shade and Fresh Water recommends for self-care and developing a stronger relationship with God.
“It’s a very holistic approach to clergy care,” said Wray. “What we are doing in Florida is very cutting edge as far as helping clergy. We are trying to make the best use of that space.”
For more information about the Wesley Clergy Suite at the Life Enrichment Center, please visit the Shade and Fresh Water website.
Mary Ann DeSantis is a freelance writer based in Lady Lake.