Summer Institute Reinvigorates Reconciliation Leaders

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Nearly 145 Christian leaders involved in diverse reconciliation ministries throughout the world gathered at Duke Divinity School on May 27-June 1 for the fifth annual Summer Institute, sponsored by the Center for Reconciliation (CFR).

Peter Cha, associate professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., shares conversation and laughter with Rev. Rebecca Johnston of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Saukville, Wis., during a break at the 2013 Summer Institute. Photo by Christina Holder. An intensive weeklong journey through the joys and pains of what it means to be an ambassador of reconciliation in a divided world, the Summer Institute offered participants structured time to learn from top theologians and seasoned practitioners from diverse institutions, attend seminar tracks catered toward their specific ministry contexts, and reflect and pray with like-minded Christian partners.

“We’ve got to hold on to what we know and what we believe in our best heart,” said participant Mary Frances Curns, rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, N.C. “What God is calling us to do is to reconcile the world. And it is painful.”

The Summer Institute gave participants opportunities not only to lament the pain of Christian communities divided by race, class, gender, violence, and denomination, but also the resources to reinvigorate their ministries in the present.

“It is easy to come to conferences and get a lot of really wonderful academic information that remains an abstraction,” said Katie Crowe, senior pastor of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in Durham, N.C., “but the blessing of this time has been the combination of a rich, scholarly environment coupled with the space to develop intentional application in our contexts.”

Participants heard from lecturers such as Duke Divinity School Assistant Professor of Christian Theology Edgardo Colón-Emeric, pastor and ethics scholar Cheryl Sanders, civil rights activist and author John Perkins, and local pastor and activist Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

For the first time this year, the Summer Institute featured a seminar on Muslim-Christian dialogue, led by Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, and Duke Muslim Chaplain Abdullah Antepli. There also was an institutional track designed specifically for leaders of Christian faith-based institutions led by CFR director Chris Rice and manager of operations and programs Abi Riak.

The Summer Institute brought together diverse participants representing more than 25 U.S. states and seven countries. Participants included those from World Vision International, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Reformed Church in America, North Park Theological Seminary, and the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, as well as from organizations in South Korea, Japan, Burundi, South Sudan, and Uganda.

Fr. Jun Nakai of Japan and Fr. Stephen Kiggundu of Uganda met for the first time at the Summer Institute. Through conversation during the week, the pair discovered they were both studying theology in Boston, Mass., but had never crossed paths. The two Catholic priests began a new friendship that will carry them back to the city they serve through parish and prison ministries.

Crowe, the Trinity Avenue pastor, said the Summer Institute inspired her to continue moving in a direction that helps her church — an historic one with a predominately white membership that is nestled in a diverse Durham neighborhood — work against racism and poverty.

“How can we reframe community?” asked Crowe, who preached a sermon June 2 inspired by her experience at the institute. “Community is not just about being in geographic proximity to one another but pursuing intimacy with one another because we are bound together by our common humanity, bound together by this God who loves us.”