Last week, a significant number of religious communities in the greater Danbury area came together for tow days of discussion, networking, and planning for cooperative efforts to meet needs in our community.
The Convocation, entitled "Singing the Lord's Song, Seeking a Common Voice," drew 125 members of 35 different religious churches, synagogues and congregations, including Protestants, Mormons, Unitarians, Jews, Roman Catholics and Orthodox representatives.
Emphasizing the concerns which they shared in common, and not the many historical and theological issues which separate them, the convocation formed working groups which will address, in an ongoing way, such topics as: youth ministries, spirituality and prayer, racism, family breakdown and related issues, the challenge of the broken safety net, and ways of honoring the Sabbath.
The convocation was sponsored by the Association of Religious Communities, whose executive director, Samuel Deibler, said ARC will help participants achieve their goals.
Seated at tables of eight, at the Colonnade Amber Room in Danbury, participants were all encouraged to express the concerns and challenges which face their congregations and traditions and to seek common ground.
This led to a series of issues which they wished to address in the future, and on the second day, individuals g joined others interested in the issues that interested them most.
For instance, the group on racism agreed to work on tow-year goals: encouraging education aimed at dissolving racism, nurturing interfaith cooperation, fostering leadership, exploring service opportunities, incorporating music and media and conducting workshops.
The Rev. Michael Coburn, rector of St. James Episcopal Church and ARC president, said the two days discussion revealed the agreement by members of various congregations on the issues that need to be addressed.
The convocation was conducted by Julie Beedon, of Vista Associates of Birmingham, England, an organization which helps large and diverse groups organize and arrive at common issues. Vista, which usually works with government and business groups, donated its services to the convocation.
Throughout the two-day discussions, members agreed that the goal would be e to pursue the issues in the years to come, and that the workshops would result in future achievements. Groups agreed to continue to meet to follow up on their various recommendations.
Plans and hopes ranged from the very wide to the very narrow: One workshop discussed how the business community might relate more directly tot he needs of the community, in view of the thousands laid off in the area in recent years. "How can we persuade business to accept its responsibility to the community?" asked Gail Lehman of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.
Another workshop discussed the issue of encouraging young people to be active in churches and synagogues. Marion Miller of the Congregational Church of Brookfield said her church leads young people in work and service projects and stresses the need to be "people of God working together."
To offset feelings of isolation on the part of the elderly and of single parents, churches can do more to bring the aged together for lunches and other programs, and to volunteer to teach parenting skills to those who need them.
Parishioners can also help overcome the negative image portrayed by the media by urging newspapers and television leaders to emphasize sound educational programming, and to offset the impact of materialism on today's society, people can be encouraged to prioritize values and work with other communities to that end.
Other goals identified by the participants were to improve the public image of religion, to combat the negative impact of religion on the media, to bind communities together, to strengthen spiritual and cultural education, to fight neighborhood breakdown and cultivate diversity, to combat substance abuse, and to put people in touch with their values.
The broad-ranging discussions and the commitment to work together wherever congregations can find common ground is a significant and hopeful sign for Danbury and for this region. Reducing the emphasis on what divides us and putting our commitment into what we can do together represents real leadership on the part of the religious communities of our region and is a great cause for both rejoicing and for hope.
Pat Rosenau lives in Redding and is a member of Christ Episcopal Church