By Carl Stagner
In 2013, the Global Gathering of the Church of God held its Global Forum on the subject of reconciliation. In 2014, Church of God Convention attendees were introduced to a form in which reconciliation could be lived out—in awareness and action concerning human trafficking. This May, the Church of God has an opportunity to dig deeper into what it means to be reconciled to God and neighbor. Church of the Street in Atlanta, Georgia, will host the Reconciliation and Justice Academy, May 11–15. Not just another conference, this experience is designed to be a weeklong intensive for those who really want to join with the most vulnerable among us to collectively develop the heart and habits of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Academy will offer specialized tracks in the areas of human trafficking, intentional neighboring, community development, asset-based ministry, and the building of reconciling churches. Speakers and trainers will include Andy Odle,(Church on the Street), James Lewis (Anderson University School of Theology), Kimberly Majeski (Stripped Love and AU School of Theology), Chris Heuertz (Gravity), Shawn Duncan (Eiro), as well as Jim Wehner and Katie Delp (FCS Urban Ministries).
“There’s nothing else like it,” Andy Odle explains. As a new event, the Reconciliation and Justice Academy is slated to be one of the most distinct and important opportunities of its kind. Last year, Church on the Street hosted a youth-oriented convention, but this year they wanted to offer something different, deeper, and with more lasting value and impact. “This event is all-encompassing,” Andy continues. “Not only will attendees learn practical skills and ideas, but they will also learn how to think more deeply about the work they are doing or are interested in doing. It will not only enhance their skill base, it will also enhance their personal spiritual lives.”
Church on the Street is a ministry that intentionally creates and sustains ministry—not to the most vulnerable in society, but with the most vulnerable in society. Founded in 1999, the organization with deep Church of God roots uniquely ministers among the most vulnerable, in an urban setting. Some of the most vulnerable are those who have become victims of human trafficking. On the streets, human trafficking is one of many areas where reconciliation with God and neighbor is greatly needed. As such, Church on the Street has served as a part of CHOG TraffickLight from its inception in 2014. As an extension of Church on the Street’s Center for Practical Theology, the Academy will give attendees practical, tangible opportunities for theological reflection that lead to action. This is just one facet of the event that sets it apart from others.
“It’s a week long, single-topic, intensive-focused educational experience—as opposed to various a conference with speakers and breakout sessions,” Andy Odle explains. “We wanted to anchor the tracks within the theology of reconciliation. Central to Church on the Street is the question of welcoming the most vulnerable in a way that lives are joined, and we begin to learn from one another. So another element, then, is the inclusion of the poor and outcast. In other words, we think learning with prostitutes is more helpful and dignifying than learning about prostitutes. In this process, we are all transformed (reconciled). What’s most interesting about this way of learning, and the most important, is that the prostitute isn’t brought in as a prop, but rather is already a vital part of the community where the learning is supposed to take place. In this way, the context is part of the learning.”
Everything the church does finds its foundation in reconciliation, whether it’s putting an end to trafficking, feeding the poor, caring for the sick, seeking forgiveness for prejudices, or leading a lost soul to Christ. Andy Odle puts it this way: “Reconciliation tells us what justice is and what it is doing. Getting people to say ‘Jesus’ isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t reconcile people to God and their neighbors. Here’s another way of putting it: fighting human trafficking, engaging in social justice and evangelism are all necessary because of the absence of reconciliation. One of the clear dangers here is that I can’t just fix something or someone, but I personally must consider the ways that I am or am not reconciled with my neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. In fact, trying to ‘fix’ them may add to our isolation and distance, even while bringing us physically closer.”
Take your faith to the streets, and be amazed how it will stretch and grow. Plan to attend the Reconciliation and Justice Academy, May 11–15 in Atlanta, Georgia.
For more information, including how to register, visit http://www.churchonthestreet.com/#/practical-theology/the-academy. Learn more about the Church of God fight against human trafficking at www.CHOGTraffickLight.org.