Text of Opening Remarks from the Biennial

We will continue to post pictures, stories, and other material from the Biennial Conference this weekend; hopefully they will evoke and provoke the furtherance of practical theology in your setting.

Here are the complete opening remarks by APT President (now Past-President) Tom Beaudoin at the start of the Biennial last weekend:

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Colleagues, friends, welcome to the 33rd Biennial Conference of the Association of Practical Theology. Welcome to New York City. We gather in this city of migrations, in the shadow of the United Nations, across the street from where global needs and conflicts, forces that influence the fate of nations and the life prospects of billions of people, these needs and conflicts are engaged or ignored, counted as significant and deserving of international attention or permitted to languish in situations of poverty, war, discrimination, and violence that mock everything noble about life.

It is clearer than ever that there is no separation between all of us gathered here, on the one hand, and the wellbeing of every country represented in the UN, and all those who are not represented, including stateless persons and refugees. We are citizens of the world, each of us in relationship with countless others we cannot necessarily see but to whom we are related: economic relationship, climatological relationship, global resource relationship, a sharing of the planet relationship, and even a cosmos-sharing relationship. In this interconnection, in every moment, the force of accumulated action or inaction opens and closes living, moving, and having being differentially. Who would use their theology now to stand apart from it all… especially when practical theology is concerned to be effective theology for preserving or revising the practice of what matters most?

Our practical theological theme is migration: freedom to move, coercion to move; freedom to stay, forced to stay. What cost is exacted from whom for having to cross borders, or from the inability to cross borders. What are the charged borders in your locale? What are the charged borders in your theology, whether that charged border is a national checkpoint, a city block, or the door of a religious community?

Starting our conference here at the United Nations reminds us there is no escaping the political character of any unavoidable involvement of practical theology in the pushes and pulls of migration. Starting our conference here at the UN reminds us to mind the connection between the world and the city for practical theology and migration. Tomorrow at Fordham in the Bronx, we explore our theme within the city, in a borough that harbors much of what is happening today in the USA about migration. And Sunday we return here to the UN Church Center, to refer the city back to the world. Our three plenary sessions this weekend illustrate this itinerary: today’s on practical theology and migration, tomorrow’s on Black Lives Matter and practical theology, and Sunday’s on the World Council of Churches and global migration.

If you have seen our Biennial Bibliography, you know that there is much good theological work to inherit regarding migration. For example, Elizabeth Conde-Frazier’s work on the spiritual dimension of the experience of children in immigrant families and attendant matters of status, justice, and worthiness in her book Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immigrant Families; Susanna Snyder’s religious practices of seeking and providing sanctuary and of encountering strangers in her book Asylum-Seeking, Migration, and Church; Leah Gunning Francis’ faith-aware exploration of the practice of protest, of community organizing, and of dialogue between church leaders and young activists in Ferguson, Missouri, in her book Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community; or Brett Hoover’s theological examination of ‘strategies of shared parish life’ between established and immigrant communities in his book The Shared Parish: Latinos, Anglos, and the Future of U.S. Catholicism.

This weekend, we learn from each other, from the city, and from ourselves as we enhance this practical theological tradition and carry our own causes forward, with a new or renewed sense for how to practice what matters most.

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