This year's Trinity Institute conference--on the theme "The Anatomy of Reconciliation – from violence to healing"--brought together five strong voices who spoke from the crucible of their own experience that reconciliation is not easy work.
The conference, Trinity's 36th national gathering, began January 30 at Trinity Church on Broadway at Wall Street in New York City and ended February 1.
Set against what the institute called deep divisions in the United States and the world over issues of personal and cultural values, a growing chasm between the wealthy and the dispossessed, and the clash of religious traditions, the conference aimed to "explore freshly the meaning of reconciliation under these pressing circumstances," according to information on Trinity Church's website: http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/institute/?2006
Keynote speakers and preachers included Roman Catholic priest and author James Alison; Bishop Michael Bruce Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina; anti-death penalty advocate and author Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ; Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, a professor of religion who specializes in gender issues; and systematic theologian Miroslav Volf.
"As the world and the creation lives into the loving purposes of its creator [and] as we live in the communion and love in the relationship with God and with each other, we will discover that that is the context for life that not even death can destroy," Curry said during his sermon to the gathering's opening Eucharist.
Alison said that the work of reconciliation is filled with temptations that can distract us from its main goal.
"Faced with the various extremely painful and distressing circumstances in our lives and in our world where reconciliation is needed we run the great danger, I think, of falling into the trap of seriousness and even worse of talking morals," he said during his talk on January 31.
Simmons, who also spoke on January 31, said that reconciliation creates justice. "A part of our struggle, as people of faith, is to create a world where people are judged by their deeds, not by their ethnic, religious or sexual labels--in brief, a world of justice," she said.
Volf spoke of his attempt to love the men who interrogated him during his military service in the former Yugoslavia.
"At times it would not have taken much to get me to switch sides except that loving those who do me harm was precisely the hard path Jesus called me to follow," he said.
Prejean told her audience on February 1 that reconciliation must begin by trying to understand other people's life circumstances. She said she never really understood the poverty of New Orleans until she moved into a housing project near her convent.
"It was witnessing their suffering that transformed me," she said.
The keynote addresses and panel discussions were interwoven with theological reflections in small groups. The group process was designed in partnership with the widely used Education for Ministry (EFM) program of the School of Theology of the University of the South. The technique was new to the conference this year and intended to "open the possibility of the inner work of reconciliation" to participants and help them explore the call to be agents of God's reconciling work, according to the website.
Trinity Institute is a continuing education program for clergy and laity that is part of Trinity Church. Founded to provide theological renewal for clergy in the Episcopal Church, the organization broadened its focus to include the work of emerging theologians of divergent thought and from diverse parts of society.
The institute now describes itself as a "think tank exploring pieces of the post-modern puzzle, trying to make sense out of a new epistemological model."