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Wingspan Conference Honors Diverse Paths

Copyright © 1996 by Marcus Copelan

This article appeared in the January 1997 issue of M.E.N. Magazine

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"We must begin where we are, and in our struggle to know ourselves deeply comes a teaching.

-Jeffrey Duvall

Men, Prayer and Meaning

The seventh annual Wingspan Conference was held November 8th - 10th at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland Colorado, about forty-five minutes north of Denver. The theme of this year's conference, Soul, Story and Heart, was infused with the potent but gentle leadership of Jeffrey Duvall. Chris Harding of Boston had burned many gallons of midnight oil to put together this gathering of men from the US and Canada. Although I do not know all those who helped, Chris was ably assisted by other willing hands and hearts.

Because this was my first attendance at such a national gathering I was not sure what to expect. I had been told to send in topics that I thought worthy of discussion. Since I was in the throes of a beginning presidency when I registered, I mailed a laundry list of practical questions ranging from grant writing to cooperative community projects with diverse organizations. Although I did receive help in personal conversations with these practical matters, the conference focused on the soul work we do as men and how to carry our gifts into the larger community. Since this has been a recurring question at the Raleigh Men's Center, it was synchronous that the theme was central to this annual meeting.

In the opening circle on Friday evening, men spoke of what drew them to this conference. During this powerful opening, I quickly realized that my practical questions would not be addressed in our group settings. But the stories of the men began to weave a spell, and by the close of our first evening together I had an emerging sense of powerful male communion.

Because the group of attendees was large, we decided on Saturday morning that breaking into smaller groups would permit more individual participation. When we rejoined the large group, those who wished could discuss what had been significant for them in the more intimate atmosphere of seven or eight men. This process served us well, and since each time we broke into groups the composition of men was different, we had the opportunity to talk frankly and listen attentively to a variety of men.

On Saturday afternoon, we had the option to spend time alone or with selected friends or join Jeffrey on a hike of the surrounding terrain. I chose the hike, noting Jeffrey's keen sensitivity to the land, its power and its stories. During the day, the temperature rose to the 60's, and the clear Colorado skies and expansive vistas refreshed my computer-weary eyes.

During the afternoon, one topic of general discussion was the need for a national venue for communication. It was decided that Wingspan, a national men's publication, remains a vital resource for men. However, it needs wider distribution to remain economically viable. As others made their pledges of support, I committed the Raleigh Men's Center to double its distribution copies from 50 to 100.

One topic that was on the table for discussion but was cut due to lack of time was the New Warrior movement and its potential competition with local men's centers. In my conversations with individuals who are New Warriors and remain strongly connected to their local men's activities, it became evident that the two need not vie for members. Consistent with the conference theme of honoring the many paths of men's work, I envision the Triangle area becoming an example of these two elements of men's work complementing each other.

Tom Daly was present on Saturday, bringing his unique energy and style. He and Jeffrey Duvall have worked together since 1986 when they first met in Boulder. On Saturday night, men from Jeffrey and Tom's council, Spruce Pine Lodge, joined us for our evening of "dance," a mesmerizing combination of movement, drumming, ritual, theater and play. Although I am experienced in many forms of movement, I entered this new space with some caution. By the end of the two hours set aside for this event, I was ready to continue for hours more. It was explained that these dances can last for hours, and I eagerly await the time when I will participate in the intensity and vigor of my next dance.

Sunday came too soon. I was both exhausted and invigorated by the activity, conversation and connection. I did not want to leave, but knew that I had feasted at a banquet and it was time to pull away from the table and digest the richness. I had departed RDU at 6:45 on Friday morning, having worked through the night to complete the tasks I felt it was necessary to finish before leaving. During the council meeting the night before, the members had stayed late to complete a full agenda that required intense discussion and difficult decisions. I had arrived at the conference mid-day Friday feeling depleted. I left invigorated by the men I had met, renewed by the deep connections we had made and affirmed in my own path as well as the bounty that men's work has yet to call forth and contribute.

Marcus Copelan attended the Wingspan conference on behalf of the Men's Center of Raleigh and Wake County. This article is reprinted from their men's center newsletter.

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