CMD religious educators share lunch at conference with Dori Davenport and Mark Hicks, new professor of religious education at Meadville LombardReligious educators from the Central Midwest District recently attended the 2008 Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with featured keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, Starr King Theological School’s Professor of Theology. During her presentations, she offered the premise that multigenerational and multicultural ministries create and sustain communities of wholeness. By creating this community of wholeness, Parker says that we are creating an atmosphere which encourages the nurturing of ourselves balanced with service to others which is actually what was taught and practiced by the first 1,000 years of Christianity.

With a focus upon Jesus’ transformation rather than his death, Parker asserts that early Christianity did not revolve around obtaining a reward in the afterlife and regaining a lost paradise long denied. Even the rituals associated with Christianity took on a different tone, according to Parker. Baptism was not performed on babies for the purpose of cleansing away original sin but instead on adults who had freely chosen to devote their lives to the study and work of perfecting themselves – to become a spark of the divine. To be baptized in this early Christian tradition took much preparation and years of study – it was actually a coming of age ceremony which marked a remarkable transformation.

Parker says that even today we have an acute need to have people trained with how to think and how to determine what is true and to be without prejudice, and the religious community is the place where the Spirit of Life works in us. This is part of the beauty that is created – a place where you can continue to grow in divinity and to help all of humankind.

Likewise, Parker asserts that the spirit of any religion is much different if the core idea is about working for justice to achieve paradise instead of considering how things ought to be and stretching for a future not yet here. Parker says that it can be exhausting and disappointing to focus upon how things ought to be when the distance between where we are and where we should be is like an always receding horizon. By reorienting the idea of social justice as working toward being grounded in the sacred soil of our Earth and working out of gratitude for what we already have,then we are doing it from a place of abundance not a place of lacking.

Also at the conference, UUA and District staff from all over the continent presented a variety of workshops on creating multigenerational learning communities who worship together, work on social justice projects together and developing leadership opportunities for all ages. The staff offered the idea that becoming multigenerational religious communities is much like the process of becoming multicultural as each generation brings its own culture and norms to the religious community. And echoing the Rev. Dr. Parker’s sentiments, they encouraged religious educators help create learning communities where all people can move to a place of mature faith, congregations where people can experience both a life transforming relationship to the transcendent and consistent devotion to others.