Roman Emperor Constantine ushered in an age when the teachings of Jesus and his church would be the dominant religious force in the Western world. Theologians today believe that the world is moving into a post-Christian age, when Christianity will be pushed to the margins and non-Christian religions will exercise the influence and domination the teachings of Jesus Christ once held.
“Christianity in a Post-Christian World” will be the theme of the Bangor Theological Seminary’s 93rd convocation, to be held Jan. 26-28. Dr. Ansley Throckmorton, seminary president, said she chose the topic to help clergy, theologians and lay members of churches begin “to come to terms with how we address ourselves to a world that no longer revolves around us [Christians].”
The Rev. Pamela Dickey Young, a theology professor and head of the religious studies department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., will be a keynote speaker at the conference. Author of “Christ in a Post-Christian World” and “Feminist Theology — Christian Theology,” Dickey believes that Christianity has the tools to address the needs of those searching for spiritual fulfillment in this new era, but as an institution it is still grappling with how to meet those needs.
“As recently as the beginning of this century, the nation was oriented to, and dominated by Christianity,” said Throckmorton. “Today, other religions, non-Christian religions, are available to people. … People are asking questions about their own spirituality and Christianity, but they are not finding answers. We need to be able to speak to them, to help them find those answers.”
Young said her lectures will attempt to define the religious searching of the late 20th century and then suggest ways that clergy, in particular, can respond to them.
“In my book [from which the convocation took its title], I looked at traditional religious symbols and their relevance today,” she said. “I’m convinced that the religious symbols of Christianity can be reclaimed and be life-enhancing today. … If we assume that the symbols are relevant and are not getting in the way of people connecting with Christianity, then it must be other things about the institution that get in the way of searchers turning to the church.”
Young, who teaches undergraduate as well as graduate courses, said that although her students are struggling spiritually, they do not turn to the church for help with that struggle. She said that they feel the church is a place people go for answers and dogma, but do not view the institution as being helpful in the process of discovering and defining their spirituality.
She added that many individual churches have taken steps to create programs and services for these new seekers, but that denominations as a whole have not yet successfully addressed those needs. She believes her work will offer ways ministers and congregations can speak about Christianity that will meet the needs of searchers and allow them to find what they need in the teachings and symbols of Christ and his church.
Young will deliver the Enoch Pond lectures at the convocation. She will present her first lecture, titled “What Are People Searching For? Religious Questions in the Late 20th Century,” at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 26. Her second, “Is Christianity a Viable Choice? Challenges and Possibilities,” will be given at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27.
The Lewis French Stearns lecturer this year will be the Rev. Dr. Christopher Morse, professor of theology and ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York and an ordained United Methodist minister. “Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief,” published in 1994, is considered his major work.
Morse’s first lecture in the series will be “Heaven as Basileia” (basileia is Greek for heaven) at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 26. He will deliver “Heaven as the Life to Come,” his second lecture, at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27.
The Rev. Dr. Daniel F. Romero will conduct convocation services for the David Nelson Beach Quiet Hours to be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 26, and 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 28. He was ordained a minister in the United Church of Christ in Los Angeles. He also holds a law degree and is a member of the New York bar.
Romero currently serves as the general secretary of the Mission Program with Global Ministers. He facilitates and coordinates three staff teams in the areas of partnerships and mission personnel, global ministries and local churches, as well as global education and advocacy.
Romero also will conduct the workshop, “A World Seeking Definition,” on Tuesday, Jan. 27. Other workshop topics will be “Humility and Sin in the Age of Self-Esteem”; “Legal Issues for Congregations”; and “Ministry and Windows 95.” Each workshop will be presented twice, at 2 and 3:30 p.m.
Registration for the convocation will begin at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 26. All activities will be held at the Hammond Street Congregational Church, Bangor. For more information, call 1-800-287-6781.