As the 2024 presidential election fast approaches and the campaign signs and TV ads begin their blitzes, it may seem the nation is more divided than ever. And, for faith leaders, Courtney Joyner said, it can be difficult for them to cultivate unity in communities that are so polarized.
“It’s a hard world for pastors to navigate right now,” said Joyner, director of the Thriving in Ministry grant at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. “We wanted to address that and equip them with tools to better be able to minister in their local context.”
Shalom Academy 2024, held at the seminary from Monday, Jan. 8, to Wednesday, Jan. 10, is themed “Pursuing Community in a Divisive World.” It offers a place to learn and reflect on the practices that move congregations past divisiveness and toward peace both within their walls and in their larger communities. The deadline for standard registration pricing is Saturday, Dec. 9.
This is the first time that Shalom Academy, formerly known as the School for Leadership Training (SLT), will be using its new name. For 54 years, SLT has equipped pastors with tools needed for deepening the effectiveness of their ministries.
“As we build on the solid foundation of SLT, we recognize the need to more overtly emphasize justice, peacebuilding and conflict transformation from a faith-based lens,” Joyner said.
She said the name change projects this focus while also distinguishing the conference as one of the programs under the umbrella of EMS’s new Shalom Collaboratory.
“Shalom Academy is a place for both education and connection,” Joyner said. This year, Shalom Academy will feature keynote speakers and workshops that give fresh perspectives on justice-inspired shalom, small-group spaces to connect around shared interests and excursions that provide relaxation and recreation with friends.
Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler, an author and the pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church in North Carolina, is the chair of L’Arche North Carolina, an organization that provides housing, support and care for adults with intellectual disabilities. Her address on Monday evening is titled, “Ministry During the Election Cycle: Politics Without Despair,” and will discuss how church leaders can faithfully and hopefully lead congregations in the months ahead.
The other keynote speaker is Rev. Adam Russell Taylor, president of Sojourners, a Christian media and advocacy organization that works toward social and racial justice. His address on Tuesday is titled “Where Do We Go From Here: Toxic Polarization or the Beloved Community?” and will focus on the tools for overcoming polarization in our society, our politics and our churches.
A new addition to the activity schedule this year is excursions. The excursions provide a space for participants to get to know each other outside of conference events, Joyner said.
“We wanted to incorporate an afternoon where people can relax, connect with each other, have fun and build relationships in a playful way,” she said.
The excursions for Shalom Academy 2024 are:
- Ice skating at Generations Park;
- a tour of the Frontier Culture Museum;
- a tour of Shenandoah Caverns;
- a tour of the Brethren Mennonite Heritage Center; and
- a performance of the play Bonhoeffer: Cell 92 at EMU’s MainStage Theater.
The play depicts the life of German dissident and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned and murdered for his opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime in World War II.
“This play aligns so well with our conference theme because Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in a deeply polarized society in which he stood up for faith and justice,” Joyner said.
A schedule for Shalom Academy 2024 includes conversation circles, teaching sessions, worship services and workshops.
The workshops, held Tuesday and Wednesday, are:
- “Leading Difficult Conversations” with Rev. Dr. Sarah Ann Bixler;
- “Moral Discernment within Community” with Rev. Dr. Jacob Alan Cook;
- “Understanding Polarization: The Good, the Bad and the Useful” with Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler;
- “Preaching in a Divided Church” with Rev. Jim Joyner; and
- “Building Bridges with First Responders” with Rabbi Jeffrey Kurtz-Lendner.
Registration is available for both in-person and virtual participation. Online registration offers virtual access to the keynote addresses, teaching sessions and the Wednesday panel discussion. For more information about The Shalom Collaboratory at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, visit emu.edu/shalom.