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  • Opening Doors - Exploring Possibilities for Religious Education 

    Just after Easter this year I attended a Conference in Canberra hosted by the Australian Catholic University. It was their 8th National Symposium on Religious Education and Ministry. Like most Conferences it managed to pack into 3 days enough information through Keynote addresses and Workshops to fill a whole week of more spaced offerings. One of the problems of course is that there are so many choices and often so little information to guide one’s choice of Workshop that sometimes it is easy to get intrigued by a title and then find the choice somewhat disappointing. This Conference was no exception but some of the sessions I engaged with gave food for thought. In education circles there is a fairly consistent expectation that attendance at a Conference brings with it the responsibility to share some of the outstanding and memorable presentations. It’s always interesting to hear two versions of the same presentation and find how different perceptions can be of the same speaker and topic. We all bring our own preferences, listening styles, openness and blind spots to these encounters. One of the very interesting things to do is to reflect on why some speakers really engaged and others did not. Readiness to hear and to learn is present in us all, not just in children. 

    I would like to share some of the insights I gathered from just one of the speakers whose Keynote address was a highlight of the program for many of those who attended. 

    Sister Judith Lawson (OAM), a Dominican educator and Leader of the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia, gave an address titled “Foundations of Hope – Leaning on God”. Her paper invited reflection on the challenges offered through the liberating Word of the Gospel to religious educators who can speak to young people of a vision of hope grounded in faith. Sr. Judith noted that optimism and hope are not the same thing; that we can be pessimistic and still have hope because optimism is the belief that things will get better, while hope is the belief we can affect the future. To build communities of hope is the challenge for educators. Sr. Judith noted that Jesus modelled the following behaviours – Encounter, Table Fellowship, Foot Washing and Boundary Crossing and then challenged us with questions arising from these models, from both a personal perspective and what they have to say about our schools–  

    Encounter – whom do I encounter and whom do I avoid? Why do I avoid some and not others and what role does silence play in the avoidance. 

    Table Fellowship – the concept of companionship and sharing of bread. Jesus was known for sharing with the wrong crowd! In our sense of hospitality who do we include or exclude. Are we capable of befriending strangers?  

    Foot Washing – whose feet are we prepared to wash and are we free enough to allow others to wash our feet? The concept of ministry and preparedness to be ministered to go hand in hand. Jesus allowed others to care for and minister to him and we need to be modelling this in our own lives. 

    Boundary Crossing – going to different places (not just geographically). The question we should be asking ourselves is how often we are prepared to go beyond our comfort zone and to live “outside the camp”.  

    We were challenged to question what our schools have to say about these issues as enshrined in the enrolment policies, outreach, social justice and religious education programs.  By focussing on evangelization, proclamation, witness, dialogue and liberation we will build communities of hope in our schools.