Voices of Reconciliation

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Friday, July 8, 2011

While the individual details may have been different, people from across the world who gathered at the Duke Center for Reconciliation’s Summer Institute shared the same story while seeking inspiration and a deeper understanding of reconciliation.

This year’s institute, “The Ministry of Reconciliation in a Divided World,” drew about 120 participants to Duke Divinity School from 24 states and 15 countries including Rwanda, Kenya, Australia, Poland, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Nigeria.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

Duke Summer Institute participants, from left, the Rev. Doreen Olson, Wojciech Szczerba, and Amelia Harris.Wojciech Szczerba, president of the Evangelical School of Theology, an interdenominational school of theology located in Wroclaw, Poland, that has a goal of strengthening the evangelical movement in Poland by equipping Christians for effective ministry.

“It’s a real blessing and miracle to be here, to listen and see what’s taking place in the world. We need inspiration and to find the best ways to continue and expand reconciliation in our own individual context.”

Szczerba says his particular context includes a growing Protestant movement in a majority Catholic country, an approaching wave of secularization that already has entered other European countries, issues of national identity in post-World War II and the fall of communism, women ministers, and the integration of Christian, Muslims, and Jews.

“Although they would apply differently here, the questions of reconciliation are similar. It’s the same dream of all to be one, to recognize and respect each other as human beings regardless of church affiliation or denomination, religious preference, lifestyle preference or any other preference, which is the broadest understanding of reconciliation.”

The Rev. Doreen Olson, executive minister of Christian formation for the Evangelical Covenant Church, a Chicago, Ill.-based denomination of more than 800 congregations across America. She was attending the institute with a group of 20 leaders and several pastors from the denomination, which has made racial reconciliation a top priority. It is one of the fastest growing denominations in the country.

“The summer institute is very beneficial. Duke offers a unique coupling of deep theological work from a strong biblical faculty with the practical outreach of that theology through practitioners. You see over and over again that you cannot extract the ministry of reconciliation from Scripture because it’s central to the gospel message and God’s character.

“The things we have been learning together here is what we will use in our denominational setting. We are aware that a sustained commitment to the journey of reconciliation requires healthy companionship as we encourage and challenge one another.”

Amelia Harris, co-pastor of Newborn Community of Faith in the Sandtown community of Baltimore, Md. The inner-city holistic ministry includes a church and Martha’s Place, a transitional house for women seeking recovery from substance abuse.

“The institute is what heaven should be like on Earth. Here people from all walks of life are loving the same God and being able to break bread with one another, share experiences, lament over the pain, and rejoice in the hope that change is inevitable and everything will be alright.

“I have been keeping a daily journal while I am here that’s filled with the nuggets of wisdom from God’s words being shed in a different than I may have been used to hearing. A speaker shared the prayer from Paul in Ephesians: “that the eyes of understanding be enlightened.” During my time here, I saw my God. I took him out of the box that we can so easily put God into. Being here allowed me the freedom, the hope, and the lament to be the new creation God is calling me to be.”

More information about the 2011 Duke Summer Institute, including a slide show.