From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
PRESBYTERIANS CELEBRATE CHRISTIAN DIVERSITY AT
05 May 1996 07:32:51
95002 PRESBYTERIANS CELEBRATE CHRISTIAN DIVERSITY AT
By Julian Shipp
ST. LOUIS--Crowd attendance and thermometers were about the only
things that fell below expectations at a national, ecumenical
student conference that attracted 240 Presbyterians to St. Louis
Dec. 28 - Jan. 1.
"Celebrate! Gathering at the Crossroads," brought together
more than 1,800 students and campus ministers representing nine
Christian denominations. The event was hosted and coordinated by
the Council for Ecumenical Student Christian Ministry (CESCM).
The Rev. Clyde O. Robinson Jr., CESCM co-chair and associate
for higher education ministries and students' ministries in the
National Ministries Division (NMD), said organizers planned the
program for as many as 3,000 college and university students, but
the official count was 1,807.
Even so, no one interviewed by the Presbyterian News Service
expressed disappointment in the event, despite having to make
personal sacrifices like being away from family, losing sleep
during long conference hours and missing out on home-cooked meals.
Stuffed with Christmas dinners and heavily laden with gifts
from family and loved ones, students flocked into small groups for
Bible study and "jammed" to modernized versions of African,
European and Caribbean music performed by the Lutheran group "Bread
for the Journey."
"Actually I had no prior expectations before coming to the
conference," said Eric Banks, a United Methodist and student at the
University of Missouri at Rolla. "But any expectations I did have,
the conference met or exceeded them. I'm really happy about it."
"I was very curious to be here and see some people who are
doing some hard thinking about what's going on in this world," said
Mary Preus, singer/leader of "Bread for the Journey."
"The critical mass of persons was certainly sufficient for us
to feel like it was a really positive experience," Robinson said.
"But I do plan to contact the nearly 600 campus ministers who work
on behalf of the Presbyterian Church and get some estimate of how
many students they contacted and how."
Robinson theorized attendance fell below expectations because
the majority of potential repeat participants (students who went
to the first conference four years ago in Louisville) have since
graduated from college. He also cited an increase in the number of
students who work in their spare time, lack of money or free time
among students and the possibility of insufficient promotion by
campus ministry networks.
Six hours of the conference were devoted to denominational
meetings. The Presbyterian gatherings, planned by the
denomination's national student leadership group, were organized
around the work of the Congregational, National and Worldwide
Ministries divisions of the General Assembly Council.
Presbyterian speakers during these gatherings included the
Rev. John Fife, former moderator of the General Assembly and pastor
of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz.; Rodger Nishioka,
associate for leader development for youth ministry in the
Congregational Ministries Division; Barbara Renton, executive
presbyter of Susquehanna Valley Presbytery in Bainbridge, New York;
and the Rev. Dorothy L. Boulton, minister for youth at First
Congregational Church in Wheaton, Ill.
More than 15 thematic sessions dealt with topics ranging from
"Justice for the New Millennium," which explored present and
emerging social issues, to "Evaluating Sexual Behavior," which used
popular media to examine values useful in evaluating moral
During her presentation titled "Feminism and Faith," Cindy
Cushman, staff member of the National Network of Presbyterian
College Women and a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological
Seminary, discussed how feminism can coexist with Christian faith.
Cushman said her understanding of feminism stems out of her
Christian belief that all people are created in the image of God
and thus should be equally respected and heard.
She used the daughters of Zelophehad in the Bible (Numbers 27)
to illustrate her point. According to the story, the father of the
daughters died without sons to inherit his property. Unwilling to
surrender all their inheritance to their father's brothers, the
daughters petitioned their case to Moses who brought the case
God agreed with the women and not only allowed them to possess
part of their father's allowance but decreed that such practices
become a permanent ordinance among the Israelites.
"One of the exciting things I discovered in seminary was the
number of stories about women which I had never heard," Cushman
said. "There are many stories of women in the Bible that we don't
Free time gave students the opportunity to take in the sights
of downtown St. Louis, catch up on studies, browse through the
bookstore, ham it up during a conference talent show or take part
in informal discussion groups and other social activities.
"These kinds of programs are important because they help us
break down barriers and embrace people of other cultures and
beliefs," said Myrthlyn Pemberton, a Presbyterian student who
attends Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Keynote speaker for the conference was Edwina Gateley,
internationally known speaker, poet and writer. Gateley is the
founder of the Volunteer Missionary Movement, which presently
involves 1,000 missionaries throughout the world, and the Genesis
House, a safe house and rehabilitation center for prostitutes in
Other guest speakers were the Rev. James Forbes, pastor of
the Riverside Church in New York City; the Rev. Tex Sample,
professor of church and society at St. Paul School of Theology in
Kansas City, Mo.; Rita Nakashima Brock, professor of humanities at
Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn.; and the Rev. Ida L. Johnson,
African-American missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of California
(San Francisco area).
According to Riddick Weber, a member of the publicity sub-
committee for the Celebrate Conference, the event was not designed
to legislate beliefs, but to give students a chance to speak,
listen and grow in their own faith.
Moreover, Weber said, the program sought to challenge
participants to meet the needs and concerns of the world as people
of God, celebrate their common belief in Jesus Christ, acknowledge
their similarities and differences and become aware of the many
confessional, denominational, cultural and ethnic traditions in
"It is our prayer that this gathering will build stronger
ecumenical cooperation, celebrating our unity through Jesus Christ,
the Light of the World," Weber said.
That being the case, the conference definitely achieved its
goals, according to Shasa McNeely, a Presbyterian student at
Trinity College in San Antonio, Texas.
"Through song, music, dance and prayer from all over the
world, an unbeatable, amazing spiritual awakening was spread
throughout the gathering at the crossroads," McNeely said. "God
really worked to give and share his message through this cultural
opportunity of praise, worship and fellowship."
"Celebrate! Gathering at the Crossroads" was the second
national ecumenical student conference hosted and coordinated by
CESCM. The CESCM council is composed of national staff from eight
Protestant sponsoring denominations and two students from each
communion, along with representatives from the National Catholic
PCUSA sponsorship came through the Higher Education Program
Team of the National Ministries Division's Churchwide Partnership
Robinson said the conference was designed to be self-
supporting financially with the sponsoring denominations
underwriting only the costs of the planning process. Over a period
of three years, he said, his office has contributed $12,000 to
support the planning and advertising of the event.
Formed in 1987, CESCM was created to help build student
leadership and strengthen the ecumenical vision and global
understanding of U.S. student ministries.
Co-sponsoring and participating denominations included the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), American Baptist Churches U.S.A,
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal Church,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Student
Movement-U.S.A., Moravian Church in America, National Catholic
Student Coalition, United Church of Christ, the United Methodist
Church and Senior Friends of the World Student Christian Federation
in the U.S.
# # #
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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