#UnexpectedMinistries Await Synod-goers in the Exhibit Halls
Squarely before the riot of color that is the General Synod exhibit hall — the swashes of stoles, the pearly drape that soars over the Local Church Ministries display, the tropical bazaar of Wider Church Ministries, and the welter of book jackets, gifts, pins, and even trading cards — a ponderous structure of cinder block grey stands in stark contrast. Its interior matches a typical American solitary confinement cell in dimensions and furnishings, and Synod participants will be able to spend five minutes within it to answer the question, “Is solitary confinement torture?”
“Five minutes in there just turns your world around,” says the Rev. Ron Stief. “You’ll know it’s torture.”
The display, jointly sponsored by UCC Justice and Witness Ministries and the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT), goes out about once a month, says Stief, NRCAT’s executive director and a UCC minister. Constructed of wood and painted to resemble the cinder block of a U.S. prison, the cell comes complete with a ceiling and a sliding door. Those within will hear sounds recorded within an actual solitary confinement cell. It’s not quiet. Many prisoners confined this way suffer from severe mental illnesses, and their shouts and screams echo down the corridors.
Stief hopes it will help delegates as they consider resolutions on mass incarceration. “It’s not just a piece of paper,” he says. “This is what we’re doing to people in our U.S. prisons.”
Further down the aisles of the exhibit halls, though, Synod-goers will find ways to refresh themselves after that experience. “Come relax in our bazaar,” says Marcy Dory, executive for mission education, of the Wider Church Ministries/Global Ministries display. Mission partners from every corner of the world will be available to speak with visitors, including the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, the preacher for Monday evening. This Synod kicks off Global Ministries’ Middle East Initiative, an 18-month effort to help UCC members understand the political, religious, and cultural issues of that region.
In the Youth Hall, visitors may follow the trail of an interfaith prayer walk. The creation of the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, the UCC’s minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations, the wandering path offers prayers from nine world religious traditions. Participants will see how people pray, from their different perspectives, about very similar themes, says Thompson. They will be able to decorate walls with their own prayers as well.
The denomination’s financial services hope to make leaders from around the UCC more aware of the ministries they offer through their displays and in conversations with their staff and volunteers. Representatives from each one emphasize the value for mission that guides their work with investment instruments, insurance, and loans.
At the Local Church Ministries display, said the Rev. Rachel Hackenberg, minister for committee on ministry resources and conference support, they have the most unique giveaways: face-painting, stick-on sparkly tattoos, and building blocks. The latter carry a message. Illustrated with Bible stories, each block represents one of the service areas of Local Church Ministries. Visit each table, advises the Rev. Holly MillerShank, team leader for ministerial excellence, support, and authorization, and collect them all!
It’s about making connections at Justice and Witness Ministries, says Jessie Palatucci, online communications specialist. “I hope [visitors] connect their passion for justice work with what the wider church is doing, so we can resource each other.” In addition to joining those communication networks, visitors can also participate in mini-workshops on topics ranging from economic justice to revitalizing the Just Peace movement: and of course, the issue of mass incarceration, represented so forcefully by the grey block standing at the entrance to the hall.
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