People often tease me that my Facebook page is usually populated with a number of “boring” meeting pictures. Just how many creative ways can you capture people sitting around tables with open laptops, power point projections, and presentation pages? Okay, so I am not that creative ( but at least most of the time I am “behind” the camera instead of in front of it). However, often these meetings reflect the passion and wisdom of friends and colleagues whose work means a great deal for the future of faith formation and education.
One good example is the Religious Education Association board retreat. I have attended such retreats for seven years now. We have met in retreat centers and hotels across the country. Sometimes the settings were quite sterile, surrounded by hotel walls. Other settings (like this year) include a lovely retreat center nestled in the back country just outside Atlanta.
Yet the time for long walks, or longer naps, remains secondary to the necessary work of the board. The real energy surfaces through reports and visioning that occurs as board members not only problem solve (and there are always problem to solve) but also celebrate efforts and dream of future initiatives.
Current President, Yolanda Smith, provided a summary report of the REA2012 meeting, “Let Freedom Ring! Religious Education at the Intersection of Social Justice, Liberation, and Civil/Human Rights.” Her final report revealed one of the most successful meetings in recent past with
- over 170 participants, following an overwhelming number of excellent paper proposals that added another full day of sessions;
- the innovation of Poster presentations, many representing excellent proposals but more tangentially related to the theme;
- culminating in not only five plenaries but a record number of sessions, including forty one Research Interest Groups, 14 Colloquies, 8 workshops, and the 8 Poster presentations.
Yolanda’s leadership in last year’s meeting sets a springboard to next year’s conference in Boston (Nov. 8-10 2013) lead by Siebren Meidema titled “Coming out religiously! Religion, the Public Sphere and Religious Identity Formation,” with a stellar, international, forum of writers setting the pace through the journal (May/June) Religious Education 108:3:
- Jack Seymour. “Preparing for the 2013 REA Conference”
- Forum: “Coming Out Religiously! Religion, the Public Sphere and Religious Identity Formation.”
- Siebren Miedema, “Coming Out Religiously! Religion and Worldview as Integral Part of the Social and Public Domain”
- Walter Feinberg, “Reconciling Liberalism and Pluralism in Religious Education”
- Cornelia Roux, “Religion in Education: Is Critical Engagement with Social Justice Possible?”
- Friedrich Schweitzer, “Religion and Education: A Public Issue and Its Relationship to the Religions and Religious Traditions”
- Mualla Selçuk. “Academic Expertise, Public Knowledge, and the Identity of Islamic Religious Education”
However the meeting included other key discussions:
Lucinda Huffaker informed the committee (with Treasurer Michael Horan on conference phone) that the organization is stable financially, operating within our resources these past two years. The conference still requires more income than it generates but I would say that we “scholarship” all our participating members by making the conference affordable and creating an opportunity for academic & professional collaborations around the key issues in our field. We are able to do so primarily due to the strength of our journal.
Editor Jack Seymour sent in a report that the journal, Religious Education, continues to do well, both in distribution and also in the strength of content. We have a number of global submissions yet our editorial selection process insures a top flight journal. In addition we have our first book being edited for the new RE Horizons book series, hopefully ready for release in Spring 2014.
Charles Foster presented a plan that will insure a stronger Harper/Wornom Committee with sound guidelines for selecting awards and projects, and a board re-commitment to provide resources to fund the awards. Yolanda noted that we may see ongoing collaborative relationships, including new gatherings at the American Academy of Religion, and at Yale. In addition the REA may establish a stronger relationship with the Odyssey Networks, expanding educational efforts in the world of media.
Finally I want to offer a personal note of appreciation to Mary Hinton. Mary helped the board to begin a formal process of assessment based on our basic commitments as an association. Mary “weaved” a number of previous ideas the board generated last year into a strategy by which we can think through our commitments systematically and organize our efforts more clearly in light of the association’s values. Most associations I know do not take this step to rightly discern just how we make strategic progress through yearly goals, analysis, and use of the results of the study. Should the board stay with this process we have a way of overcoming the largely “episodic” nature of most volunteer associations. This approach allows for “dreaming” which appears in every conference planned. However it also provides “grounded deliberation” to those dreams and opens the way for new processes.
Chuck Foster indicated that the REA may well be back to its
original place in history, taking on an advocacy role for the need o
f Religious Education in the church and larger community. If so we have people with creative vision but also a process to chart our progress.
Good days for the association, no matter how “boring” these meeting pictures might be