If you ask Stella Beene-Venson to describe her life's work, she'll probably say hospitality rather than meeting planning.
Hospitality is “part of my ministry. It coincides with my faith and the job I have,” she says.
For 16 years, Beene-Venson has been the meeting/travel coordinator for the division of ordained ministries, section of chaplains and related ministries, of The United Methodist Church's General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Nashville, Tenn. In that role, she plans meetings for nearly every week of the year. Her division works with chaplains ministering in the military, hospitals, and prisons, and those working as pastoral counselors. She also works with members outside the United States.
Among her duties is planning seven annual retreats in five areas around the United States and two retreats in Europe and the Far East.
A Spiritual Vocation
Working with her constituents and being able to serve them is “a spiritual thing” for her.
Being in a retreat is “not only part of my job, it's a spiritual uplift for me. It's something everyone needs to relax and wind down.”
But she's also working during those times.
“I'm just the hostess with the mostest — that's essentially what this job is,” she says. “I just enjoy the people and the sharing and nurture of retreats. When the board of directors comes in … just being able to associate with people of different parts of the world, different cultures, different languages, I feel good to service them, to get them what they need.”
In addition to the retreats, which gather from 17 to 300 people, Beene-Venson plans four committee meetings that are part of the process for calling new chaplains. There's a spring meeting for the group and an annual exploration for young people that brings together 1,400 people, ranging in age from 16 to 25, who are exploring various aspects of ministry.
She also volunteers her meeting planning expertise outside the job, including work with the Black Caucus of the Church and chairing the Wesley Foundation, a campus ministry program at various colleges. She's currently chairwoman of the foundation at Fisk University, also in Nashville.
And she's a newly elected board member for RCMA. “I think I can bring my gifts to the organization,” she says. “I'm hoping to recruit more members, hoping to serve also as a PR person for the organization. It's a good organization. A lot of religious planners in the market need to know how to get a return on their investment.”
She believes that being an RCMA board member requires dedication, an understanding of the market, and knowledge of the needs of the members.
Beene-Venson, an RCMA member for 13 years, says the networking and tutorials are the most valuable parts of the membership. She always attends Jonathan Howe's legal seminars. “I need to be up on it so we're getting the best for our dollar. I come back to my job and apply that. Sometimes just being face-to-face with a supplier, establishing a relationship, building trust, you feel that ‘Hey, they know how to work with me. I won't have to spend all my time on one project.’”
Advice to Meeting Planners
Her tips to meeting planners: Know what you're getting and what you're asking for; know your audience and know your budget. It's challenging sometimes. “You have to be consistent and insistent that you get the information” from your board or boss. “You need to stay in touch with at least the chair of the design team.”
It also helps to know the history of the organization and its previous programming. She has a couple of advantages in those areas — she's been with the section long enough that there is a lot of trust between her board and herself. She handles the budget, so she knows what she can spend.
Continuing education includes working toward her CMP certification, which she thinks she'll complete this summer, and learning from those around her, including a recent intern. “With her young brains, she brought out a lot of things I had put on a shelf,” Beene-Venson said.
She encourages RCMA members to attend the conferences. “Make sure you go to the tutorials and then work on putting your knowledge into action.”