Shalom Center: Beginning of a Vision

We have always both found a spiritual power in nature. The seasons, growing things, animals, hills and mountains, the ocean, lakes, rivers or streams are so inspiring to us. We love the land we work and own, but feel it is not just ours to keep without sharing. One day about a year ago we were at the acreage, probably haying, and we said what a lovely place that would be for a retreat center. It was just a thought out of the blue (or was it a nudge?), but we became rather excited about it, and decided to pursue the idea. And here we are.

- Dr. Sid and Mary Jean Leeper

Land made avaliable for sanctuary retreat

In 2001, Dr. Sid and Mary Jean Leeper made available more than 30 acres of their rolling farmland southwest of Columbia to the Missouri United Methodist Foundation. The land is to be developed into a center for spiritual renewal.

"I`ve always seen the land as a beautiful place for a retreat. It has so many possibilities. We don`t want the center to be used for business meetings. We hope to see individuals and groups use it for prayer, reading, personal reflection and a way to enrich their lives," Mrs. Leeper explained.

Bishop Ann B. Sherer recognized the Leepers` commitment to others in their personal spiritual walk at a dinner hosted for them by the Missouri United Methodist Foundation.

"Through their vision , clergy and laity can come to a place for personal renewal. I long for this retreat center to be a place that is available to individuals - a place where pastors can think through a series and ideas for their sermons. I imagine groups coming as part of their Disciple Bible study retreat. It can be a place for persons to come to renew their spirits, to rest and to reflect upon their commitments," said Bishop Sherer following the dinner.

"I see at least two distinct visions. First, it can give us a place to make things possible. Second, it is essential to have a spiritual foundation. By having a place to come to like the center, we are reminded of that need for renewal."

Since 1964, the Leepers have been members of Community United Methodist Church in Columbia. They have led several mission trips, taught Sunday school, chaired various committees and sung in the choirs. Mrs. Leeper is a leader in the Stephen Ministry and has led several prayer groups. Dr. Leeper is the medical director at Shelter Insurance Companies in Columbia. Sid and Mary Jean Leeper will be introduced at Annual Conference this year and more information about their gift will be made available there. A task group of laity and clergy from the Missouri Conference has begun preliminary work toward making the spiritual center a reality. Peggy Eshelman, coordinator of formation and justice ministries, is the staff member assigned to the group.

The Vision and the Challenge: In February 2001, Dr. Sid and Mary Jean Leeper, members of Community UMC, offered the United Methodist Church in Missouri a gift of 30 acres of rural property near Columbia for use as a renewal center. That gift will be held by the Missouri United Methodist Foundation. The vision is that the property, with its natural beauty and rural setting, will become a place of quiet retreat from the distractions of ordinary life, a place where clergy and laity can come for a day apart or a brief time in residence. Persons may come alone, with families, or in small groups to a setting of deep peace and delight in God`s creation, a place where body and soul are refreshed. The challenge is to fulfill the vision by raising necessary construction funds within five years using methods other than apportionments or church-wide capital campaign, and to begin using the property as intended. A task group with members from the Missouri Conference has been appointed by Bishop Sherer. The group asks for prayer, program ideas, design suggestions, and partnership as they recruit the various planning teams. Give names and contact information to any task group member.