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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

Revovare conference promotes community

By Christian Huebner
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 24, 2006

On Saturday, members of the St. Olaf and Northfield communities gathered in the Sun Room for a “Day of Grace.” This was the title of a daylong conference focusing on Christian unity and spiritual disciplines.

The conference featured Emilie Griffin, a prolific Christian writer and speaker associated with the ministry organization Renovaré.

Griffin spoke to the conference attendees about the transformational power of grace in individual lives and also about the importance of spiritual growth in community.

St. Olaf Information and Instructional Technologies worker Jeff Dixon, who organized the conference along with Associate Pastor Jennifer Koenig and Physical Education Instructor Scott Nesbit, spoke about the meaning of the day's theme.

“[We] feel that God lays out the grace,” Dixon said, “[and then says] 'now, here are some ways to relate to me.'”

Griffin addressed both the invitation of grace and ways for Christians to respond in a series of four seminars. She gave examples of divine calls and conversion experiences in biblical and Church history and also shared stories from her own past. Griffin suggested that God's calling is more common than one might think.

“Every day is a day of grace,” she said, “and yet we're not aware of grace flowering in our lives.”

Cultivating this grace in order to live a godly life, said Griffin, could be aided by practicing traditional Christian spiritual disciplines. Renovaré provides a format and study materials for small groups of four to five men and women to meet and explore how they can practice these disciplines in their lives. These are known as “Spiritual Formation Groups.”

Spiritual Formation Groups have been meeting at St. Olaf for the past year. Jaclyn Loftsgaarden '07 has been a part of these groups and said the practical applications of Christian disciplines discussed there are helpful to her.

“I can find something from this…that I could put into practice in my own life,” she said.

Koenig said that she hoped that the Day of Grace conference would “have a ripple effect” in starting more Spiritual Formation Groups.

One appealing thing about these groups, said participant Cheridyn Runchey '06, is their ecumenical approach.

“The Spiritual Formation Groups weren't founded by an [established Christian] organization, so people come from all different places to learn and grow,” she said.

That is one of the main purposes behind these groups, said Nesbit. He and Dixon began organizing Spiritual Formation Groups last spring because they “thought it would be a unifying agent for … any St. Olaf student interested in learning more about the Christian faith.”

Christian unity was a major theme of the Day of Grace conference. Koenig described how when she first arrived at St. Olaf as associate pastor, she felt that Christian groups on campus were antagonistic toward one another.

She has seen improvement in unity since then. The idea behind the Day of Grace conference was to host an event that would drive that improvement even more.

“We've tried to find an idea that could be broadly offered to all the Christian groups and honor all the Christian groups,” she said.

In her seminars, Griffin pointed out that the spiritual disciplines she and Renovaré espoused were open to all denominations and all kinds of Christians. “When we practice these disciplines, we do experience a unity in Christ,” she said. But she also argued “true ecumenism honors the differences [between traditions] as well.”

Unity within diversity was also evident in the worship at the conference. Student worship organizer Micah Wilkinson '06 said he and St. Olaf alum Kurt Prond '05 “were seeking worship that would be inclusive in its breadth and that would help all kinds of Christians worship together.”

They compiled an order of worship that featured a brass quintet, guitar-accompanied song, liturgical readings, and small tastes of spiritual disciplines like the practice of silence.

Though Renovaré conferences are usually run through churches, Griffin said she enjoys the “energy and questions” that college audiences bring. St. Olaf President Christopher Thomforde, who attended the conference and joined Griffin in a discussion forum, agreed that events like the Day of Grace were important to young and old alike. “For everyone,” he said, “whether you are twenty or sixty years old, the struggle to find a life of spiritual depth is strong. So it is good to have time to stop and reflect.”

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