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Big Tent’s Peacemaking Conference focuses on reconciliation, understanding

Sessions will address servanthood: speaking truth, listening respectfully

June 28, 2011

LOUISVILLE

Editor’s note: The second gathering of the Big Tent will be in Indianapolis June 30-July 2. Billed as a family reunion, the event will “celebrate the mission and ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

The Big Tent is comprised of nine conferences, and participants can register for workshops in as many conferences as they choose. Worship, keynote speakers and an exhibit hall will also be part of the event.

Recognizing that much of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s work creates a lot of contention and debate in the church, the program will use Big Tent to focus on reconciliation and understanding in the midst of disagreement.

Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries for the General Assembly Mission Council, says that “most important is the ingathering of God’s people. Each plenary is to be done in the context of worship to emphasize the centrality of worship and prayer to peacemaking.”

Plenary sessions will focus on Christian servanthood ― speaking truth lovingly and unashamedly, seeking to be inclusive by listening to those with whom we disagree, and reclaiming our voices for evangelism.

These themes seek to undergird the theme of the Big Tent — “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.”

That does not mean shying away from contentious issues. A pre-conference workshop, which will be repeated during the conference, focuses on gun violence and how the church does and can respond to the epidemic of violence caused by the continuing sale of illegal guns. 

Workshops led by the staff of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness (OPW) in Washington and U.N. Office in New York will address the theological foundations for public advocacy and educate participants on best approaches for doing advocacy. 

In response to the perception that advocacy seems arrogant, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, OPW director, will call on participants “to love our neighbor” by “applying in our religious and political dialogue the same manners, which grow out of our faith, that we use in other spheres of life.”

Conference workshops carry through on this theme. Lisherness will lead a study of  Psalm 85:10 — “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” —exploring how justice and peace are integral to growing the church deep and wide.

Debbie Vial, associate for peacemaking partnerships, with others will lead a workshop on caring ministry for soldiers and their families — how to respond to the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of war.

The Rev. Parrish Jones is a Presbyterian minister and free-lance writer in St. Augustine, Fla. He will be covering the Peacemaking Conference at the Big Tent in Indianapolis for Presbyterian News Service.

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