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All-School Conference 2007: "Simple Gifts: Living Faithfully in a Complex World"

By Danielle Tumminio '07 M.Div.

"I had to fight off the tendency to use generic language and use my own," said author Nora Gallagher, speaking to a group of students and faculty at Yale Divinity School's 2007 All-School Conference. Gallagher's words reflected the message reiterated by other guests at the conference: God's message cannot be spoken in generic language. It must be offered from personal experience to be understood universally-we must speak honestly if we are to have simple lives.

This year's All-School Conference was held February 26-March 2, around the theme "Simple Gifts: Living Faithfully in a Complex World." Events were intended to give students tools to consider the theme from social justice, liturgical, musical, environmental, and theological perspectives.

A scene from The Vagina Monologues, performed during the All-School ConferenceAnother speaker, John Bell, composer and member of the Iona community, talked about the role of subversive songs in fighting injustice, and he emphasized that musical justice-seeking is not just the work of choirs. It is the work of all churchgoers, drawing on their personal experiences, noted Bell, and it is the calling of musical leaders to empower all Christians to sing-encouraging believers to take the message of the songs outside of the church's walls and into their lives.

Bell told the audience that religious music, spirituals, and psalms not only express injustices in society, but that they can also build solidarity that brings members of a community together in the work of fighting injustice.

In a panel discussion on "Trans Issues in the Church" YDS student Scott Larson, Harvard Divinity School student Cameron Partridge, and Professor Siobhán Garrigan offered personal and liturgical concerns and recommendations for ministering to transgendered people in the church. All noted the theological significance of affirming transgendered Christians.

"We have to integrate this into creation: God didn't just make two genders. It harms everyone to think that way," said Partridge, himself transgendered and an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Massachusetts. "Creation creates a range of genders and desires and shows an infinitely varied, dynamic, and plastic creation. That's part of its goodness. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation." The talk was moderated by Professor Diana Swancutt and coincided with the university-wide Trans Issues Week.

Early in the week, two investments experts squared off on issues of financial stewardship and responsible investing in a world of complex finances - Rusty Leonard, CEO of North Carolina-based Stewardship Partners, and Sister Ruth Rosenbaum, executive director of the Hartford-based Center for Reflection, Education, and Action. Rosenbaum made a case for a "socially responsible" investment model broad enough to embrace persons of many different faith perspectives. Leonard argued for a narrower focus, a model based on Scripture that will lead to what he termed "biblically responsible" investing.

The theme of simple living extended also to events that emphasized ecological mindfulness, including a community soup dinner and collecting plates, mugs, and silverware for use in the student kitchen in place of disposable items.

The All-School Conference originated in 1999 under the direction of Professor Letty Russell as an attempt to give the YDS community an opportunity to reflect on its strengths and areas in need of growth. This year's coordinators were Carmen Germino '07 and Jessica Anschutz '07. The event was sponsored by the YDS Community Life Committee.

-Director of Communications and Publications Gus Spohn also contributed to this story.


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