Recap: Abundant Justice 2017

Inspirational, enriching, surprising, encouraging, stimulating, positive, energising.. These were just some of the words people used to describe Abundant Justice 2017.

A coming together of faith and the desire to live in a way that is life-giving, the gathering created a safe space in which to foster renewed thinking and dialogue about our complex world, to seek insights into what vision of society the church should be proactively narrating into our culture, and how we might approach these endeavours in practice and in advocacy.

On Friday night the Very Rev Peter Catt welcomed everyone at St Johns Cathedral where we shared soup and homemade bread. This spirit of hospitality here set the scene for the rest of the gathering. He spoke of the public role of the Church and the power of narratives. We are called to tell a different story to the capitalist and utilitarian one that is destroying our communities and our planet – to extend God’s invitation for us to be co-creators of the New Creation as proclaimed in Jesus.

The beautiful lush grounds of St John’s College within the University of Queensland, St Lucia, was the perfect setting for Saturday’s sessions. 3 powerful provocations were offered to the group in the morning.

Dr Neil Preston spoke on Complexity. The nature of the world is complex and emergent, and we need to think and act differently in doing justice and caring for creation in a complex world.

Reverend Dr Sarah Bachelard spoke on Transformation: How we are formed, and how we approach our mission, is intrinsic to our work for justice.

ABC’s Scott Stephen spoke on the power of “narrating.” The challenge for people of faith, to shift from reacting to the surface political issues of the day, to identifying the deeper ideas at play, and proactively narrating an alternative Christian vision.

The panel discussion that followed was a reminder that life is indeed complex. While there was plenty of affirmations, the panelists did not always agree with each other. Seeing the speakers model the kind of dialogue they had just been talking about between themselves and also the audience was terrific.

Shifting gears after lunch participants gathered for the Open Space session in the chapel gently facilitated by Brendan Mckeague. For many this was their first experience of the Open Space process where there were no formal agenda at the beginning beyond the overall theme of “What is God calling us to do to further God’s mission in the world”? The process was scary at first. People were slow to move in the beginning, but once the first topic had been put up others followed suit. Soon almost all the meeting locations for the 3 time slots were filled up.

A wide range of topics was suggested and discussed in self-organised groups including Listening to Land, Ethical Shopping, What to do with Church buildings in a Post-Church society, Engaging Interfaith Spirituality in Mainstream Congregations, Collaborative Leadership, and Discerning Community as a Body in Working for Justice.

Later a few participants admitted to expecting the discussions to be more theological and less practical, but many really appreciated the chance to respond to the provocations in such grassroots conversations.

All through the gathering a sense of ownership of our time together was achieved by the facilitator’s emphasis on the fact that each participant had chosen to commit time and effort into being there. That was also a sense that we all came with a purpose and it was up to each one of us to make it happen.

Coming back to the talking circle in the chapel one could really feel a sense calm and of hope. One of the participants shared something that came to him during the course of the day: “When Jesus told his stories they were brand new- so our stories that we will tell anew might change the world too!”. That was the perfect thought to have in our minds as we ended the evening on the lawn in conversation over wine and cheese.

We will be posting each of the speakers’ provocations at this year’s gathering over the next few months and leading up to next year’s conference on Doing Justice Facebook Page.

Abundant Justice 2018 will expand to a full 3-day conference from 16-18 July 2018. For more information and to register your interest head to www.abundantjustice.com

(This post was originally published on doingjustice.org.au)

Peter Branjerdporn