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by Nelle Slater

People of a Compassionate God: Creating Welcoming Congregations edited by Janet F. Fishburn has been published by Abingdon Press.  It was released in August and a box of 20 copies arrived at Estes Park on the next to last day of our 2003 UMASCE Consultation.   The UMASCE  Research Committee with Janet Fishburn as Chairperson began the book's roots in l994! Some UMASCE members may recall the Jekyll Island '94 Consultation when in the business meeting it was voted to change the timing of consultations so that we met on odd numbered years. The reasoning: "Too many UMC meetings on even years (jurisdictional and general conference and Wesleyan, etc.).

As the new president elect I immediately became aware of the fact I had TWO consecutive summer consulations to be responsible for the design leadership since those voting did not want a three year "hold" on "'til we meet again." That fall I began conversations with Janet whose Research Committee was the UMASCE Consulation planning committee.  I wanted to work with UMASCE about adult education and its congregational context.  I asked Janet if she would apply to Lilly Endowment for funding for two resource persons.  Obtaining the funding we called a meeting of the Planning Committee in Nashville and began the design of the Consultation.  Four working groups functioned in 1996 and 1997.   The group that centered its research in the Reconciling Congregation Program included  the authors of PEOPLE OF A COMPASSIONATE GOD:  Janet Fishburn, Mary Elizabeth Moore, Elizabeth Box Price, Nelle Slater, and Linda Vogel.

The two resource persons who came to both summers of '96 and '97 UMASCE Consultations were Bernard Cooke and Peter Stromberg.  Bernie is a "sacramental theologian." His 1990 book The Distancing of God: The Ambiguity of Symbol in History and Theology is a rich resource for educators. [ Part Two, Chapter 11 on Symbolism and Modern Psychology and its reference to "meaning bearing symbols" is a challenge to religious educators!]  Peter's Symbols of Community: The Cultural System of a Swedish Church shares his doctoral work in Anthropology at Stanford University.  Congregational consensus and commitment will take on new dimensions after reading it.
Our working group's assignment between '96 and '97 consultations was for each of us to write a study of congregational education within a local church who engaged in the issues of exploring their commitment to become a "Reconciling Congregation."  Case studies of five congregations have become chapters in PCG.

Please note: The promotion of RCP was not our primary focus.  It was to use the Movement of welcoming homosexuality into congregations as our learning context about adult education within local communities.  Seldom is a "movement" organized nationally so that it offers an opportunity for "on site" multiple, ethnographic reporting.  Here was an opportunity to try to discern "meaning bearing symbols" in their congregational contextuality and learn how they shape and share our personal and community life's.
Our UMASCE working group of five met several times after the 1997 consultation.  We shared narratives in more depth and sought to identify what were our learnings for adult education.  The group developed the outlines for the chapters beyond the reported congregational stories and assigned authors. We asked Janet Fishburn to transfer her research committee leader role into
becoming our Editor.  The four others of us are very grateful to her for saying, "yes" and staying at the helm.

Becoming the editor meant trying to find a publisher.  Abingdon would not accept the manuscript.  Then through dialogue with our team
there were communications with five other possible publishers.  One press even made a commitment.  We got to work again, but officials beyond the press editor said, "No." Although each press was affirming about the book FIVE UMC stories were not to be touched by a non UMC press.  Late in 2002 Janet received an inquiry from the UMPH. Would we please send our completed manuscript?  Each of us had to "make" time to finish our earlier assignments and secure legal permissions for the narratrives, etc.. We had put completing work on "hold" until there was a publisher.  Janet has been a faithfully committed servant!  In her Prologue she thanks consultants, congregations, and financial contributors.  WE, also, THANK JANET!!)

I think I speak for all five of us that we each have received much as we have given to this project in an almost decade long undertaking. I did tell Harriet Olson at our  '03 Estes Park Consultation that perhaps timing has worked to our benefit.  We may find more readers now than we would have three or more years ago. 

It is the tradition within UMASCE that if there is income from work done through the Research Committee that after expenses are paid the income from any publication shall be directed to the treasury of UMASCE.  We hope you will purchase PEOPLE OF A COMPASSIONATE GOD for your own reading. Then promote it among your colleagues.  Then see that your own congregation's Library secures a copy, etc...... Perhaps a future consultation can involve your receiving funding for a deep concern of your own! I hope this background may help provide or renew the process of UMASCE research and its publication.

Nelle G. Slater

Copyright 2003 UMASCE All rights reserved

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