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Reviving a community

New Jersey presbytery to host ecumenical conference to discuss social problems, awaken faith

March 18, 2010

The word Revive! in multiple colors on a black background

STATESVILLE, N.C.

Imagine bringing people of all faiths, ages and races together to address problems common to everyone within a city.

And then imagine re-energizing the church and exciting the desire of citizens to right social wrongs once and for all.

This is the goal of Revive!, an effort by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. The event is scheduled for June 11-13 in Trenton, N.J.

The idea began with the presbytery’s Social Witness Committee, said the Rev. Marcia MacKillop, the presbytery’s hunger action advocate and Revive! coordinator.

“We did some immigration workshops in 2008, and they went very well so we decided then that we wanted to do something bigger and more inclusive,” MacKillop said.

New Brunswick took its lead from Sojourners, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that began holding Justice Revivals in 2008. These revivals are large-scale ecumenical gatherings in major cities designed to bring people together to renew their faith and address social wrongs.

According to the Sojourners website, the group’s vision is to “link the tradition of Billy Graham with the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Something like poverty is an issue that affects people of all faiths,” MacKillop said. “People might have different beliefs, but the poor are a common problem that they can all agree on and work together.”

The idea is that “faith in Christ is dead if it doesn’t impel us into the world to minister to and with the broken to whom Jesus ministered: the stranger, the prisoner, the sick, the poor,” according to a Revive! brochure.

Choosing to focus on the stranger and the prisoner, Revive! will address the issues of incarceration and immigration.

MacKillop said the presbytery isn’t going to be doing quite as large a production as Sojourners’ Justice Revivals, it’s still a large project.

“We’ve attended these but never done one ourselves,” she said.

The three-day program will feature four worship services and a justice fair featuring a number of speakers. Cornel West, Bart Campolo, Brenda Salter-McNeil and Shane Claiborne are among the speakers who have committed so far.

Because Revive! is an ecumenical project, MacKillop has been reaching out to other church leaders in the area. The steering committee for Revive! is made up of Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, nondenominational Christians, evangelicals and everything in between.

“Tired of fighting the culture war, we gather to invite a new breeze of the Spirit to unite us in our love for Jesus, not in our doctrinal uniformity. Bound together by our thirst for justice, we gather as Christ’s followers yearning for God’s kingdom,” reads the brochure for Revive!

“I’ve found this to be an opportunity to not only revive the church, but to learn about the different cultures of the different churches,” MacKillop said. “It’s amazing how isolated some of them are.”

Although MacKillop sees the value in learning about differences, she’d like the churches at Revive! to focus on their commonalities.

One such commonality for the churches is a growing disconnect with members. In many cases, members don’t see the church as relevant to what is going on in the world.

Revive! strives not only to bring attention to social justice issues and energize the community to deal with them, but also to make the church a relevant entity in the community again. MacKillop would like to see the church become part of the community and turn the focus outside its own walls to the real needs that exist outside.

“We put on a smaller event recently for young adults concerned about social justice, and they were very enthusiastic,” MacKillop said of an event she saw as a preview of the larger June gathering.

The hope is that Revive! will “inspire, challenge, renew and awaken” faith in the community while bringing people together on social justice issues.

Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is also church secretary at First Presbyterian Church.

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