From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:32:51


                                      STUDENT CONFERENCE 
                                        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 
before God. 
       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 
(traditionally) learn." 
       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 
American Christianity. 
       "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 
Student Coalition 
         PCUSA sponsorship came through the Higher Education Program 
Team of the National Ministries Division's Churchwide Partnership 
work area. 
       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   Web page: 


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