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Churches' awards for Civil Dialogue 

Churches’ awards for Civil Dialogue come in the midst of electoral discord

In the midst of the current electoral discord, some Christians and other people of faith are asking “Is the divisiveness in the US affecting the churches more than the churches are affecting the divisiveness?” We want to show the culture the better way referred to in scripture, "instead, speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). To encourage such efforts, the Kentucky Council of Churches gave three awards this year for good work in the area of Civil Dialogue.

Dialogue between Catholics and Disciples

Revs. Rick Loader, Sally McClain and Joe GraffisFive Roman Catholics and five members of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ are continuing a practice of regular dialogue that began almost 40 years ago in Louisville. Before taking on the most sensitive topics, they began by learning each other's histories, personal and denominational. Then they talked about similarities and differences that were not too sensitive. Finally, they took on the most division-causing topics, sometimes called "life" issues. Even after so much groundwork had been laid, these topics were explosive for them. And so they took two years to do more disciplined listening to each other. Accepting the award for all the participants were the Rev. Joe Graffis of St. Edward Catholic parish in Jeffersontown and the Rev. Sally McClain, retired pastor of Edenside Christian Church. A link to Graffis and McClain's personal remarks at the award ceremony is here.

Episcopalians in Dialogue about Coal

Rev. Elise Johnstone with Rev. Shanks and Dr. McLaughlinEnergy issues, and especially the place of coal, often seem too hot to touch in Kentucky. The leadership team of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington has adapted a process they call "Holy Conversations" to make the coal topic touchable. They begin the dialogue process with a review of principles of good dialogue, distinguishing it from debate. Then they provide an overview of energy issues, focusing on the questions of who benefits, who pays, and who decides. They facilitate small group discussions and make sure the group hears the voices of people whose lives are affected by coal personally and professionally. The coal dialogue has now been conducted at a diocesan convention and on a regional basis with dioceses located throughout Appalachia. The award was accepted by the Rev. Margaret Shanks and Dr. Kay Collier McLaughlin. The award banquet remarks are here.

Centre College's Civility Pledge

Thomas Becker is president of Centre's student governmentThe senior class graduating from Centre College this year is the cohort of students who created and annual embrace this pledge: "I promise to do my best, be my best, and respect the members and property of our Centre community."

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Award winning Dialogue between Catholics and Disciples

For nearly 40 years, a group of pastors and lay members from the Louisville Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church and the Disciples of Christ have gathered to discuss issues many in the church shy away from. Their commitment to engaging in civil dialogue over both practical and controversial issues have remained, even as other groups formed at the same time have faded.

Yet, for Father Joe Graffis and Rev. Sally McClain the group has helped to identify shared common beliefs and practices, while also giving a safe space to understand different perspectives and ideas. As a result, the group has become a tightly knit group of not just ministry partners who meet between September and May to discuss practical and complex issues, but fellow brothers and sisters who are ministry together in service to Christ. Their efforts will be recognized by the Kentucky Council of Churches as one of three awards for Civil Dialogue to be given at the October 24th banquet at this year's annual assembly.

Relationships that have made a difference in their local congregations.

“This is who we are,” McClain said how “the dialogue has created enhanced relationships. Before we were Protestant, we were Catholic. Before we were Catholic, we were Jewish. It is that teaching moment that you have with your individual congregants that helps to break down barriers. It still does that today. People need those false myths addressed.”

What led to the commitment to engaging in civil dialogue?

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Restorative Justice event

Zacchaeus made amends to persons he had defrauded, so deeply had he taken Jesus' love to heart. (Luke 19:1-19) As ambassadors of reconciliation, we are to make amends when we can, allow others to make amends, and foster this practice broadly as a way to heal the world's hurts. It's called "restorative justice," and it has become a movement in our day.

The Kentucky Council of Churches has stated, "The primary Christian understanding of justice is one that focuses on the potential for redemption, an effort to restore wholeness -- wholeness to the individual, as well as wholeness to the community."

The dates of our assembly on the Restorative Justice theme were Friday October 24th and Saturday October 25th 2014 at Lakeside Presbyterian Church, just south of Covington in northern Kentucky. The leaders included:

The Rev. Dr. Carl Stauffer
Co-Director of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University, Stauffer has done hands on work for restorative justice in the US and abroad.

Ms. Nontombi Naomi Tutu
Having lived through the end of apartheid as the daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu, she is a moving speaker on issues of truth and reconciliation, gender and race.

Sister Helen Prejean
Spiritual advisor to death row inmates, she is the author of Dead Man Walking as well as The Death of the Innocents.

The devotions leaders and workshops, banquet awards, exhibits, and fellowship with leaders of a dozen Christian traditions all worked together to make this an opportunity to "go deep" into the most challenging aspects of the Gospel.


Bethany Fellows program "goes ecumenical" to help new clergy

The Bethany Fellows program supports ministers in those early years of service when they are most likely to burn out and leave the ministry. It was pioneered by the Christian Church Disciples of Christ and is funded by the Lilly Endowment.

Now the program is “going ecumenical” and will no longer be exclusively for Disciples clergy.

The program structure is two 5-day retreats throughout the year for a total of 8 retreats per participant. The week is filled with small group processing with participants’ peers and seasoned mentors, site visits to congregations doing excellent ministry, a 24 hour silent sabbath, and a great deal of prayer.

It is a national program, so all clergy in congregations and chaplaincies in all denominations across the country, within those first 5 years of serving, are eligible. The mentors are dispersed throughout the country. Rev. Kim Gage Ryan (located in Missouri) is the executive director. The website for the current Bethany Fellows program, including the contact information for the executive director, is here.

The Rev. Robyn Bles, a Bethany Fellow serving at Crestwood Christian Church in Lexington KY, says, “If you know of any clergy serving a congregation or in chaplaincy and are still within those first 5 years, I hope you'll pass along this invitation to them. I cannot speak more highly of Bethany Fellows.  It not only steeped my first years of ministry in love, support, and prayer, but it transformed my daily practice of ministry.  I'm so thrilled that they're making it ecumenical as I think forming these prayerful colleagues in ministry is just what the Church needs.”


Engaging Compassion in 2014 - An Interfaith Discussion

To mark the one year anniversary of the Dalai Lama's visit to Louisville, a panel of representatives of diverse faith groups met May 19th at the Drepung Gomang Institute. Numerous practical insights were shared, such as the Dalai Lama's challenge for social service providers to meet the needy "where they are." If there was a consensus on priorities, they were education and practical action.

The Kentucky Council of Churches representative, Executive Director Marian Taylor, added a state-wide perspective on the challenges of moving to full acceptance of religious diversity. There was applause when she announced the Council's 2015 assembly will focus on just that theme. A photo of the evening's program can be seen here.