In the Confession of 1967, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognized the church’s mission to train “ministers of reconciliation.” In May 2009, students at the Bridge-makers’ Retreat took a look at what it means to participate in a ministry of reconciliation in the here and now. Though we live in a time in which many argue that religion and the church are among the most divisive entities on the planet, the call to reconciliation is alive on the PTS campus.
On May 2-3 a small, ethnically diverse group of students gathered for the Bridge-makers’ Retreat as a foretaste of the reality of reconciliation achieved in Christ.
At this year’s retreat, a facilitator asked, “When was the last time you experienced joy?” Participants responded to the question in pairs; one person listened silently for five minutes as the other spoke and then switched places with the other. The purpose of the exercise was to truly experience listening to another human being’s experience.
The inspiration for the Bridge-makers’ Retreat arose from reconciling activity already present at PTS. Efforts to equip “ministers of reconciliation,” for example, are evidenced on the campus by the presence of the Hispanic Theological Initiative, Asian American Initiative, the Office of Multicultural Relations, “The Reading Circle,” and classes led by professors who teach theology and Biblical studies focusing on the racial, sexual, gender, and economic marginalization of some members of society. The ministry of reconciliation is understood not as negating differences but as celebrating diversity.
At the conclusion of the students’ time together they responded to the question, “What would a ministry of reconciliation look like?” Some spoke to programmatic change and truth-telling, saying that such a ministry would be about “Building meaningful relationships, and performing acts of love and justice in victimized and marginalized communities. Also, speaking honestly and prophetically to power.”
Others said diversity would be the result of a “truly Gospel-centric ministry” as well as “involve people of all different contexts feeling radically welcomed and valued, while given a chance to learn, grow, and serve.” Yet another observed the eschatological nature of such a ministry – it would be “A bearer of God’s love” that held “the tension of difference” and grew “in the tension of ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’” People of “every ethnic, race, gender, sexual orientation” would let go of “agendas to get to know each other with the love of Christ as their lenses. The focus would be togetherness in the same room looking each other in the eyes while having the ability to love each other.”
Finally, one participant simply stated, “A ministry of reconciliation would look much like this retreat.”
For those who participated there is great hope that the Bridge-makers’ Retreat will only be the first of many focused on the training of ministers of reconciliation. Retreat participants encouraged each other to dream big; some envisioned a truth, reparation and reconciliation center on the PTS campus. The work of bridge-making is the call not only of seminarians but of all Christians — all who follow in Jesus’ ministry to reconcile what has been torn apart by sin. To build bridges is our highest calling.
One PTS student put it this way:
Soft spoken majesty
Wisdom jewels spill from lips.
Third eye erect allowing her to see into your soul.
Patient ears listen in stillness to the heartbeat …
Palpitations personify struggle, happiness, fear, joy.
Courageous honesty assuage the nakedness of vulnerability
Eyes search deeply into the unknown trying to unlock secrets hidden behind all the chaos.
Masks melt into oblivion as non-verbal cues communicate safety dwells here.
Conversation transforms stranger into neighbor.
Scattered pieces of humanity come together allowing me to see you in
Sobering realities through the power of presence allow me to share your cross.
The blood stained Lamb reminds all, of our interconnectedness.
Spirit meets and greets spirit allowing us to collectively embrace the beauty of
Tranquility abolishes fear as unapologetic transparency abides …
and God’s grace and love abounds.
— Written by Tamara R. Davis, PTS Middler © May 2009. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Aretha Campbell, Sarah Henkel, and Suejeanne Koh were members of a student-led group, “Reading Circle,” that envisioned and organized the retreat. They are 2009 PTS graduates: SueJeanne Koh, M.Div. and Th.M,, Aretha Campbell, M.Div,, and Sarah Henkel, M.Div.