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WEB EDITOR'S NOTE: The following are from the 5 person Nevada Delegation of who accompanied our Bishop to the conference (Melvin Stringer, Ken Rackley, Ann Pontius and Jane Foraker-Thompson).

REPORT TO THE DIOCESE OF NEVADA
on
“WILL OUR FAITH HAVE CHILDREN?”Conference

Chicago, IL Feb. 13-17, 2003

This Conference was called because the national leadership of the Episcopal Church perceives that our Church is in trouble! We are in danger of being too apathetic and irrelevant because we do not act enough as Christ's body in the world. Because we do not act in a prophetic way enough of the time, in enough circumstances that cry out for social justice, we could become extinct if we do not start appealing to the children and youth of today by being a strong voice in the name of Christ, as we were all called to do.

THE VISION of this Conference was "A Vision of Inclusion: Listening with an open heart; Recognizing and honoring differences; Celebrating our unity in Christ, Acting in an environment of hope; and Recognizing that the Living God is at work among us in new and exciting ways."

This was the most dynamic, challenging and inspiring Conference I have ever been to, and I have been to many, many conferences over the years. First of all, the Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold was there the entire time, and participated in worship and other matters every day. There were about sixteen Bishops there, who also stayed and participated the entire time, including our own Bishop Katharine. There were more Black Episcopalians there than I knew existed, which was very encouraging to me, as I'm usually embarrassed at how white and homogeneous our Church is, especially compared to other mainline churches. Two of the Bishops present were Black as well. This was reassuring to me that we are not running headlong into extinction. Every Diocese of the Episcopal Church USA was asked to send five delegates, so there were over six hundred people present at the Conference, from all over the U.S., as well as guests from England, Ireland, Jerusalem, Africa, etc.

The format of the Conference was that there was daily worship and keynote speakers several times a day. The work of the conference took place in workshops called tracks. The tracks were organized by clusters, and there were four clusters. The four Clusters were: Liturgy and the Arts; Christian Formation and Education; Leadership Development; Evangelism: Social Justice and Transformation. There was a program for the children of the participants called Peace Camp, which focused on teaching the children of all ages Non-Violence in Christianity. They made a presentation to the general conference on the last day. There was also a Peace Village that provided interactive things to do that involved tactile use of materials while being in a worshipful mode. A Discovery Center was created outside the main hall for general meetings which invited people to enter into the sense of the Conference through visuals, worship, oral traditions, singing and dancing, which created a mood that changed throughout the Conference. The many various ways of reaching us intellectually, spiritually, emotionally; individually, and in community established a holistic atmosphere that sought to draw us in completely into the process and intent of the Conference.

Bishop Katharine attended the track for Bishops in Christian Education and Formation; Melvin Stringer from St. Timothy's, Henderson attended the track on Christian Formation and Anti-Racism Training; Ken Rackley from St. Paul's, Sparks attended the track for Christian Education Directors; Ann Pontius from St. Paul's, Elko attended the track on Faith Formation and Stewardship; and Jane Foraker-Thompson, Coordinator for Social Justice for the Diocese attended the track on Taking Faith Across the Boundaries. Each of us experienced excellent workshops that went very deep into their topics, and we will be sharing what we learned with the people of the Diocese in Mission District meetings, articles, and special trainings that will be offered.

The keynote speakers focused on education, listening, understanding, and taking moral stands based on the faith that Jesus left us, and to teach our youth and adults to stand up for what is right. Each one taught new techniques, more open attitudes, broadening our understanding of our Faith and how we are called to share it as sisters and brothers in Christ moving out into the world.

The worship services were a key part of the total experience, building on our development through the speakers and the workshops, challenging and inspiring us to take our faith deeper and share it more broadly. They were sometimes led by Bishops and sometimes by children of different ages. The message was that we are not meant to gather together only to comfort ourselves, but to challenge the world around us to bring Social Justice to our civic order in the name of Christ, to relieve the suffering and afflicted, to end racism and war, and to be examples of the Love of Christ in the world. As the old saying goes, Christians worthy of the name are meant to "Comfort the afflicted; and afflict the comfortable."

Some of the leaders for our worship services were amazingly inspirational and gifted, including Bishop Michael Curry from North Carolina. Not all the speakers were Episcopalians. Dr. Robert Kegan is Jewish by faith and a professor at Harvard. Dr. Parker Palmer is a Quaker and is now a "writer, teacher and activist." Victoria Garvey is an Episcopalian who taught at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary for 12 years and now directs Christian Formation at an Episcopal congregation in the Diocese of Chicago and co-chairs the Chicago Diocesan Commission on Formation. Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, of the Diocese of Jerusalem, an Arab-Palestinian-Christian Israeli citizen, who has been laboring to build bridges in the midst of the widespread political and economic instability between Israel and Palestine, was there to appeal to us to live into our calling, and not to go to war against Iraq. He said that if the U.S. makes war against Iraq, it will be the end of Christianity in the Middle East, which has been there since the time of Jesus Christ. Bishop Richard Chang of the Diocese of Hawaii played the role of Weaver for the Conference, tying the various sections of the conference together when we gathered to meet as a group of the whole by summarizing where we had been and where we were going next.

This was a conference that both inspired, but also demanded that each of us go deep and participate with our own learning, experience and understandings, to share those with our track members in an effort to look forward in how to be the evangelists that all believers are called to be: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt 28:19)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The Cluster on
Evangelism: Social Justice and Transformation

Track: Taking Faith Across the Boundaries,

- by The Rev. Dr. Jane Foraker-Thompson
(Diocesan Commission on Peace & Justice)


Each of spent sixteen hours together with the other members of our tracks. I wasn't sure why I was assigned to the one I was, but I figured God had a hand in the selection, so I settled in. Mine was led by the Rev. Dr. Michael Wyatt from the National Cathedral, the Rev. Whitney Robertson from the Diocese of California, and Mr. Abdul Rashied Omar who is Muslim from South Africa, but is currently working on his doctorate at Notre Dame University.

At first we focused on how adults learn best. We were asked to name which boundaries challenges us, and which attract us, and where do we find them. We were also asked to think of those small group learning experiences that have been positive, and those that have been negative and to think of what worked and why, and what didn't. We realized as we shared with each other that what worked was when each person felt valued, affirmed and listened to; when we shared each other's backgrounds with respect, and it was inter-active, and when it felt safe to share on a heart and soul level, not just intellectually/cognitively. Only under those circumstances where there is a spoken or unspoken agreement to build this kind of community are people able to share authentically and deeply. Then we can begin to name our values, our assumptions, our perceptions--whether or not they are accurate, informed or fair. Only then can we listen to the other, and learn from them; when we are not following a personal agenda to "change the other."

As we each shared our stories and experiences, we came to agree that in adult learning situations, especially when we are trying to communicate with others with whom we do not agree in our religious beliefs--either within Christianity, or without--there must be openness to respect and include each other, to leave space for each person to express themselves without judgment or "correction" from others; to share our strengths and weaknesses, in order to "create a container of safety" to have open, honest, heart-felt dialogue. Each participant needs to feel trust and safety. That means each of us is called to risk ourselves, to be vulnerable, courageous and humble as we share our experiences and our viewpoints. We summarized this with a method: sharing in small groups, reflection together, making connections between our values; then action, i.e., "walk the talk." We share who we are, what we do, what we believe. That can lead to experiences of transformation. Interestingly, most of expressed that we are more uncomfortable sharing with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are of the fundamentalist ilk than we are sharing with Muslims, Jews and Buddhists! That tells us that we have some work to do in learning to do effective and loving intra-religious dialogue.

Rashied Omar was a gift to our group. He is intelligent, well-educated, broadly experienced, having grown up in the struggles against apartheid in South Africa. Rashied would have been considered to be a "Coloured" person in South Africa, or perhaps as Asian, as he may have Indian blood. In South Africa, "Coloured" a mixture of black and white bloodlines, or any mixture of races. So Rashied would have been pitted between the whites and the blacks, as the "Coloured" category of people was during apartheid. In spite of the unspeakable conditions that he has come out of, Rashied is gentle, calm, broad-minded, tolerant, and loving. When asked how he felt as a Muslim among such a Christian atmosphere, both in our track group, and where he is studying, he replied that that has been his whole life experience. It is not something new for him, and he obviously has learned to deal with it. I wonder how most of us would do as well if we were minority Christians among Muslims. Rashied shared with us how moderate, mainstream Muslims around the world, after the horrors of 9/11/01, were hoping and praying that this horrendous deed had not been done by Muslim extremists, as it was first speculated by the media. They kept hoping that this was misinformation of some sort, that it wasn't true that any kind of Muslims could have done such a thing, because they were as revolted by such action as the rest of us. He said that some Muslims were still in denial that is was done by Muslim extremists, as it is so counter to their religion and they cannot conceive that any sort of Muslim could do such a thing.

Rashied shared with us some of the results of his research, as well as his life experience. He wrote a brief paper called "Critical Challenges in Christian-Muslim Dialogue." In it he covered the topics of the Challenges of Intra-Religious Pluralism, Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivations for Interreligious Dialogue, the important use of Language and Terminology, Interpretations of Sacred Texts, Religious Plurality vs. Religious Pluralism, and Top Down vs. Bottom Up Approaches. He also gave the group a gift of an annotated bibliography of One Hundred Books on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, which can be incredibly useful for anyone seeking to engage in this area of reaching out toward people of other faiths. He pointed out that there are various models to use for Interreligious Dialogue, which can choose to focus on Dialogue on Theology, Solidarity, Spirituality, or Life issues.

One of the group's last experiences together was to answer the questions: "What is unique about Christianity? How do I know that? How does that affect my life in a vital way, the way I live?" After giving answers in the larger group, we broke up into smaller groups and came up with answers, which we later shared with the larger group. The results were very interesting, and not necessarily predictable. This turned out to be one of the best learning experiences of the workshop, but it only worked after first spending hours together working on our issues together, with trust and community building first. At the end of our time together, we felt we had made new friends to keep and to grow with.

I am grateful to Bishop Katharine for inviting me to attend this conference, and to the people from the national office that made scholarships available for our team to attend. It was stimulating, challenging, growth-provoking, and now we have an obligation to share what we gained from this Conference on the future of our Church with the rest of the membership of the Diocese of Nevada in whatever ways we can.

— The Rev. Dr. Jane Foraker-Thompson, February 20, 2003

The Cluster on
Anti-Racism

— by Melvin Stringer (St. Timothy, Henderson)

One definition of racism is power plus prejudice. It is something that undermines Christ's teachings. Recently I attended a conference, with other members of the diocese and Bishop Katharine, entitled "Will Our Faith Have Children?" One component of the conference was Anti Racism Training which I
participated in. As a Christian, racism is something we should not belive in or practice.

Each component group was asked to prepare a closing
statement. I would like to share with you my group's statement:

"There is no correlation between anti-racism training and Christian
Formation; Christian Formation IS anti-racism training;
It is a life-long endeavor grounded in prayer and action."

We are not there yet. In order for "Our Faith to Have Children" we call upon the church to design a curriculum for equipping adults to:

  • Teach children to recognize racism
  • Empower children to become anti-racist
  • In the coming year our diocese will be doing anti-racism training in each mission district.
  • Consider being a member of the anti-racism team.



The Cluster on
Leadership Development for
Christian Education Directors

—by Ken Rackley (St. Paul's, Sparks)

The Will our Faith Have Children conference was a great conference. We heard from many great speakers and worshiped with great intensity. I was part of the Directors of Christian Education for children. This was a great help and learning experience for myself and I can not wait to be able to
share this with other DRE's for youth and children. We discussed various opportunities for accreditation in our field. We discussed that through out the area, we all feel this is important. We feel that continued education for this position should be expected and supported by the church as a whole.
I am going to be attempting to contact and get together with other DRE's in
the near future. I would like to ask those reading this article to pass on
this information to the DRE in your church. If you are or know of the DRE
in your church please contact me either by phone (775) 358-4474 or email above

One of the great statements that I brought out of this conference is a
reminder that the children and youth are not the church of tomorrow; yet,
they are the church of today. We need to allow the children to participate
fully in worship with us. We need to meet them where they are at, as well
with all people, and invite them into full communion with us. This should
not be on our level but theirs and where they are comfortable.

 

Bishops Cluster

—by The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori (Bishop of Nevada)

The bishops in attendance (about 16 over the course of the conference)
gathered to consider our own role as teachers of the faith. We engaged in
Bible study around two powerful passages (Jer 31:7-17 and Isa 54:1-10), both
having to do with the desolation Israel felt at the Exile. There are
profound parallels with our experience in the church today - the world has
changed, we often feel as if we're asked to sing God's song in a strange
land where God is not recognized, and we wonder what will become of our
children. Our conversation ended with a commitment to raise the
consciousness of our brothers and sisters in the House of Bishops about
faith formation as a fundamental part of the bishop's vocation and role.
The closing session welcomed Bp. Riah Abu El-Assal of Jerusalem, who shared
powerful stories with us about the exile experience of the Anglican Church
in Gaza and Israel/Palestine.

 

Stewardship Track

—by Ann Pontius (St. Paul's Elko)


The stewardship formation group began with the group sharing of our faith and giving life stories. As we shared we noticed some common themes and decided to explore the question of how does the church equip, nurture and encourage faith formation in the home? This question became very relevant after hearing Palmer Parker's presentation when he challenged us with the notion that our faith will not have children if our faith does not first have adults who participate and are on a journey to share that faith with our children.

Other initial thoughts we had about stewardship were first, there needs to be a sense of gratefulness/gratitude, of knowing we are giving back to God that which is not really ours. And second, that good stewardship knows and pays the real cost of things (not just monetary), and models good, moral respectful behavior.

As we continued our discussions about faith formation in the home we came up with some ideas. Stewards manage property not their own and have a willingness to care for that which is entrusted to them. We are trustees of God's treasure and we make conscious decisions about this treasure and acknowledge the consequences of those decisions.

We will try to teach to all generations simultaneously and we will live out our message, i.e. practice what we preach and live with great care. We will tell children what we are doing and why we have made the choices we have. By being authentic we can model the importance and the impact of good stewardship behavior in our own lives.

We have a responsibility to teach that stewardship is relationship with God, self and community. That there is a need to be in relationship and to work on being in relationship and this begins in the family. We will educate parents to lead the formation process in the home. Two holy habits supported by scripture are tithing and keeping the Sabbath holy. Both are ways to be in relationship with God and to give back a measure of that which has been given to us.

Things essential to stewardship formation are willingness, openness, intentionality, joyful witness, awareness of our own God story, engaging in community, attending to people where they are and not separating money from the context of a spiritual life. We will use multiple approaches to get this message across knowing that one approach is not the magic wand. Creating spaces within our churches for people to tell their stories is one way to begin encouraging stewardship formation.

The vernacular of the culture may be addressed by use of the internet, credit cards, electronic fund transfers, retelling our story and living in our story, through music and media and the use of relevant language. Creating experiences for people to learn and grow in ways that are familiar and comfortable especially with the younger "electronic, whiz bang" generation will get the message out and make it relevant to our time.

The end goal of the stewardship track was to design a resource that gets into the home with or without the church i.e., a website, billboard and/or advertisements to include print, TV and radio. Because we live in a time of overall busyness without time to sit and think, the idea of a website that can be accessed for ideas and stories at any time may appeal to those on line at ten or eleven PM. Print ads and billboards may trigger a need in someone to get in touch and find out more about being in relationship with family, church and God.

To conclude, our premise is to attend to others at the point where they are. By reaching out to adults, and through them children we hope to have adults who will tell the babies the stories and that God may be invisible but He is not dead!

Photos by Melvin Springer
(The names of those reporting above are links to Send an eMail to that person)