A Conference atSaint John’s Abbey and University, Collegeville, Minnesota
Sunday afternoon, June 10, to Wednesday noon, June 13, 2007
At many conferences, those who don’t know show up to learn from those who do. Not at this one.
Everybody has something to contribute, and whatever the conference is about we are going to discover together.
Community is not a thing to be grasped. It is a flowering, an unfolding, a surprise, and we want to explore many different ways people prepare for, recognize, nurture, and celebrate the gift of community.
Someone once inverted familiar words—“Make us ever mindful of the needs of others”—and prayed instead, “Make us ever needful of the minds of others.” This conference is an answer to that prayer.
The occasion for the gathering is a 150th birthday—the sesquicentennial of two Benedictine monastic communities in central Minnesota—the sisters of Saint Benedict’s Monastery (www.saintbenedicts150.org) and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey (www.saintjohns150.org). Not long ago all the Benedictines in the world celebrated a sesquimillennium. For 1500 years the daughters and sons of Saint Benedict and his twin sister, Saint Scholastica, have taken to heart the first word of the Rule that shapes their life: “Listen!” And because of this, the sesquicentennial is more about the next 150 years than about the past.
The conference is at Saint John’s and Saint Benedict’s, but it is not about them, though their wisdom, grounded in a century and a half of listening and living together and demonstrating a durable entrepreneurial spirit through astounding changes in society and culture, will profoundly inform the conversation. One reason monasticism has survived and flourished longer than nearly any other human institution is the readiness of monks and nuns to listen to their neighbors. This conference is in the grand tradition of interchange—monasticism is not forsaking the world, but for the sake of the world—and it is about the future. We want to create new shared understandings of community for our tomorrows.
We aren’t defining community prior to the conference. There are certainly many examples that come to mind: family, neighborhood, work, union, corporation, party, town, state, nation, church, synagogue, mosque, temple, service clubs, and on and on. But the substance of the conference will not be analysis of these; rather, we will tell each other stories about our experiences of community, and we will listen to each other. We will ask
We are exploring and charting territory together; this is not an organized tour of a familiar location with expert guides. There are no “experts”—or rather, everybody is an expert. Our agenda for the conference is a journey into uncharted territory where you may be a guide and a traveler.
We have invited some persons who are noted for thoughtful, original, innovative observation of contemporary culture and society to serve as kindlers of the conversation. (We first called them “keynoters,” then realized that such terminology locks us in to notions of hierarchy; fresh visions of community require careful attention to language.) Kindlers include:
Ray Suarez of "The NewsHour" on PBS
Krista Tippett of "Speaking of Faith" on NPR
John McNight, Northwestern University Professor of Education and Social Policy
Jolivette Anderson-Douoning, Facility & Program Supervisor of the Black Cultural Center at Purdue University
Thomas Hoyt, Jr., Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church & recent President of the National Council of Churches
Melinda Wagner, Pulitzer Prize winning composer
They will not be “pronouncing” from the podium, but will be kindling everyone’s thoughts, so that all of us will say brilliant things and crazy things and surprising things about the resiliency of the human desire for community.
We are also asking thirty persons, from fields such as theater, politics, business, education, science, religion, city planning, the military, web design, law enforcement, medicine, public health, and the like, to serve as fosterers (not “facilitators”) of conversation. There will be much time spent in small groups (of about ten persons each). All sessions, both large and small, will be recorded, so that a report of the conference can take into account the myriad of voices—we really mean that everyone is an expert.
Planning for the conference is governed by the ideal of real interaction, sustained listening, openness to everyone’s ideas and experience. There will be occasions to form community as well as talk about it, (noted singer and songwriter Barbara McAfee) will lead singing periodically throughout the conference), and there will be free time for spontaneous things to happen.
The grounds of Saint John’s Abbey and Saint Benedict’s Monastery invite communion with nature, and Benedictine artistic traditions, including The Saint John’s Bible (www.saintjohnsbible.org) which is nearing completion, will trigger your imagination.
The fee, $375, covers all materials, meals (Sunday dinner through lunch Wednesday), and lodging (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights). For those not requiring lodging, the fee is $275 (you will be expected to be at the conference meals).
Participation in the conference will be limited to 300, and reservations will be processed in the order they are received. All participants are to be present for the entire conference.
To participate, please print and mail your registration form, together with payment, by check made payable to Saint John’s University, or by credit card. Of the fee, $50 is non-refundable. If you must cancel your reservation, the remainder of the fee ($325 for those staying on campus, $225 for those not requiring lodging on campus) will be refunded if you notify us of your withdrawal by noon on Monday, June 4.
We need to know your postal address to send confirmation of your registration. Once we have your registration we will send you periodic updates, electronically if you have an email address, on specific plans for the conference.
If you have questions, please get in touch with Patrick Henry, a co-chair of the conference, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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