Rev. Sydney Avent’s reflections on the first ever Disciples Public Presence Conference
On September 16th and 17th, 2018, the first ever Disciples Public Presence Conference, or Justice Summit, took place at the Christian Conference Center, Newton, Iowa. Approximately 60 people from all over the United States convened to share experiences and wisdom, identify barriers, and commit to continuing the building of a sustainable Disciples Public Presence (DPP) in ongoing and developing justice work. The Summit was convened to strengthen the infrastructure for justice work within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The conference brought together grass roots activists found in DPP, Disciples justice networks, General Ministries, Regions, and local churches for the sake of showing up together as Disciples in justice work.
Disciples Public Presence began and continues to be a Facebook group where Disciples share their individual and common involvement in justice work. Disciples Public Presence has also become a brand. There are no plans to change the FB presence or the brand. The conveners did, however, identify a need to establish common justice terminology and shared theological understandings about why Disciples do justice work, without requiring or mandating common perspectives on specific issues. We were challenged to understand the distinctions among charity, education, justice, activism, advocacy and organizing and to identify which terminology from this “Justice Buffet” is applicable to our current work.
Prior to the Conference, individuals and churches were asked to take a survey to identify Disciples’ justice work and resources throughout the country. There was discussion of the preliminary results and mapping and acknowledgment that the survey will be an iterative process. I have agreed to work with Rev. Dr. Laurie Pound Feille to revise and redistribute the survey. The results will be literally mapped to allow Disciples to connect with others doing similar work and to identify available resources. Members of The Park should look to receive and respond to the survey in the next few months.
Issue specific discussions occurred over lunch: antiracism, ecology, indigenous peoples’ rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, peace and antiwar, and gender-based violence justice. I requested that gender-based violence be included among the issues. I was pleased that a cadre of people was excited to participate in individual and communal justice work centered on gender-based violence issues, resources and opportunities. We have agreed to continue sharing resources and opportunities to leverage our efforts.
The conference ended with a discussion of a framework for an action plan to leverage Disciples’ collective presence, in the areas of communication, and theology and worship.
Kudos to Rev. Terri Hord Owens, General Minister and President, Rev. Dr. Dietra Wise Baker, Program Coordinator for Advocacy and Activist for National Benevolent Association, Rev. Dr. Laurie Pound Feille, Senior Pastor, First Christian Church, Minneapolis and Rev. Bill Spangler-Dunning, Regional Minister for the Upper Midwest for the substantive program and the well-planned and well-executed logistics!!