Here’s my report on last week’s National Shalom Summit: 


Shalom Summit 2009 Celebrates Achievements and Envisions Future

Columbia, SC.  If the purpose of a National Summit is to bring together representatives from a national network for a time of community sharing, inspiration, team building, and training, then ‘last weeks’ Shalom Summit fulfilled this purpose and more through onsite participation and live streaming of sessions to those unable to attend in person. Together, they focused on the theme of “Stepping Up To Shalom” – Seeking Systemic Change through Community Development, sponsored by Drew University and General Board of Global Ministries October 28-31, 2009.  

When Global Ministries offered to webcast the Summit, I was delighted.  I knew this was a virtual sign and tangible indication of the success of the Shalom movement.   I think there is sufficient momentum now to ‘step up’ to a new level of web technology for this once small grass roots initiative called ‘shalom zones.’ 

We reached our goal of 250 registrants by mid October.  A total of 275 persons from 26 States attended the event, including: 30 JustUsYouth and 15 Community Developers Associates (two programs of GBGM).   Representing nearly 100 Shalom sites in the national network, the largest group, predictably, was comprised of the 71 from South Carolina Annual Conference which served as host to the national gathering.   North Texas Annual Conference sent 26 Shalom team members to the Summit, followed by 16 from the State of Tennessee, 13 from Baltimore-Washington, and 13 from California.

Webcast Draws 400+ online participants

In addition to the 275 ‘shalomers’ who attended the 3 day Summit at the Radisson Hotel in Columbia, SC,  an additional 400+ participated in the event via streaming video on the internet.   Viewers of the webcast participated in the Summit through two social networks, Facebook and Twitter. According to James Rollins at Global Ministries, “We had a total of 408 online hits over the course of the Summit. There could be multiple viewers on each hit.  It was picked up in 12 countries- but most of the viewership was based in the US.”

Four general sessions, two worship services, and the Banquet were broadcast live online through the facilities of the General Board of Global Ministries, the mission agency of The United Methodist Church, and a partner in the sponsorship of Communities of Shalom and the National Summit. The sessions focused on such themes as ‘stepping up’ from social services to peace with justice, prophetic leadership, new shalomzone training units, and the use of web technology to develop Shalom’s presence on the Worldwide Web.

Live streaming, also known as webcasting, offers new possibilities for reaching audiences of people unable to attend actual events. The Mission Communications Office of Global Ministries is developing the capacity to offer the option to diverse mission programs and organizations within the United Methodist connection.

“Live streaming is a wonderful tool in the cause of mission but is not intended to take the place of actual participation in mission conferences and other events,” said the Rev. Chris Heckert, director of Mission Communications for Global Ministries. “It is an asset to draw in persons who are unable by distance or other factors to be present in person. It extends the reach of mission education and actual participation in mission events.”

Recordings of the general sessions will be made available by GNTV and GBGM at 

Inspiring Worship

The two worship services, designed by Rev. Tanya Bennett of Drew University, which opened and closed the Summit, were image-rich, musically engaging, liturgically-diverse, and focused on God’s work in the world. Bishop Gregory Palmer (Chair of the Council of Bishops) preached at the opening service and Bishop John Schol (Chair of the National Shalom Committee) closed the Summit. “This event is tremendous, said Bishop Schol, who once served as national director of the Shalom Initiative and hosted most of the previous Summits.  He said of this year’s gathering: “Not since our Summit in Los Angeles have we had so many participants, and now we truly have moved beyond just United Methodists to include other faith traditions in the spirit of Shalom.  Shalom is still on the loose!  And coming to a community near you.”

Motivational Sessions:

After a spirited concert performed by the 70-voice Claflin University Gospel Choir Thursday night, the Keynote Address was delivered by Bishop Joseph Sprague, who originally called for the creation of a “shalom zone” in 1992 on the floor of the General Conference of the UMC in the immediate aftermath of the social uprising in Los Angeles following the not-guilty verdict of the policemen who beat Rodney King. Sprague inspired the crowd in his impassioned call to prophetic justice, community organizing, prison reform, and seeking systemic change in the church, the community and in the larger society.  Mr. Will Dent, senior program associate and a national trainer, iIn behalf of the National Shalom Committee, presented Bishop Sprague with the first Shalom Dove Award given for prophetic action and community development in seeking systemic change.  The glass crystal award was inscribed with the words:  “Joseph Sprague, Instigator of Shalom, 1992”.

Following the Keynote were remarks by Tanya Bennett and Jayda Jacques of Nine Strong Women—a new shalom team featured in the Sundance documentary “Brick City” about the Newark Mayor’s war on drugs and gang violence and grass-roots efforts to bring peace to the city, produced by Forest Whitaker.  A 10 minute clip of this highly acclaimed series was shown during the program, and the full one-hour of Episode III was shown to the many that stayed after the close of the session.

Enthusiastic response was expressed by participants over the three days after viewing the eight high quality and entertaining YouTube type video clips shown during plenary sessions produced by selected sites, including: Richmond Shalom Farms (VA), Gallatin Shalom Zone (TN), Deaf Shalom Zone (MD), Pharr Literacy Project (TX), Tree of Life Ministry (SD), Nine Strong Women (NJ), Bennettsville Cheraw Shalom (SC), and HopeHomes (Malawi). Each media clip not only profiled the site, but illustrated ways they had ‘stepped up’ to a higher level of shalom ministry in their community.

Celebratory Banquet

At Friday night’s Shalom Banquet, Rev. Kelvin Sauls, Assistant General Secretary, Congregational Development and Racial Ethnic Ministries, GBGM,  presented and preached with great passion from his experience in his native South Africa on the theme of “Shaloming Across Borders” His appreciative audience was on their feet and applauding with delight, which reached it height when Resurrection choir and singers from JustUs Youth led in a final set of energetic praise and worship.

During the celebratory Banquet, a Shalom Dove Award was presented to Rev. Velma Cruz-Baez, pastor of Pico Union United Methodist Church in Los Angeles—one of the original and only surviving Shalom Zones from 1992.  Now known as “Mother Shalom”, the historic site was recognized for its prophetic witness in South Central LA and its achievement in building a 30-unit apartment complex comprised of 2 and 3 bedroom apartments called Casa Shalom, completed in 2006. It has a child care facility operated by Head Start serving 100 children in 3 daily sessions. The Pico Union Shalom Ministry offers programs and services for building residents and community members on site. However, the ‘mother shalom site’ is struggling during the current economic downturn and in its relationship to a highly transitional community in the face of changing district church priorities.

Also during the Banquet a ten minute media clip was shown about the Mzuzu Shalom Zone’s efforts in Malawi to make their orphan care program sustainable for the long run.  This new Shalom Zone and their Hope Home program caring for 100 orphans recently received a $20,000 sustainability grant from UMCOR.

EPIC Training

Whether one accessed the Summit in person or online, the program schedule “was packed with EPIC–experiential, participatory, image-rich and connected—ways of learning,” explained Dr. Christensen.  Four general sessions and eight specialized workshops offered ample opportunities to step up to a higher level of shalom ministry.”  (EPIC is a term coined by Leonard Sweet to describe postmodern pedagogy and mediums of delivery of content previously packaged in modernistic outlines of precepts, propositions and principles of reasoning.)

According written evaluations, the most popular training session was Ted Hart’s “Stepping Up to Web Technology” about how to develop a Shalom presence on the World Wide Web through online fundraising, social networking, and creative ways to attract new constituents by driving them to your website where they can request more information or make a donation.

Another favorite training session was conducted by national trainer, Annie Allen, who reinforced the six threads of Shalom by orchestrating six teams to act out in skits and songs each letter of the SHALOM acrostic:  Systemic change, Health and healing, Asset-Based Community Development, Love for God, self and neighbor, Organizing for direct action, and Multicultural, multi-faith collaboration. Most entertaining, perhaps, was the group that composed a song about asset-based community development.

Specialized workshops were devoted to such topics as:  Green Collar Jobs, Community Mapping, Financial & Administrative Excellence, The UMC Connection–Resources for Community Development, Community-Organizing–A Biblical Theology and Practice of Power,  Sustainability–Funding Shalom Sites,  How to Start a Community of Shalom, and How Walking the Labyrinth can Help Rebuild the Community.  Unpredictably, the most well-received workshop was Walking the Labyrinth.

“Participants expressed genuine delight about the quality of the training and equipping sessions: “Extremely informative, full of useful information, excellent feedback and participation,” said one registrant.  “Good to see Shalom Training adapting to the times,” said another. “Technology the best I’ve experienced at this kind of gathering,” said another.

The National Summit was hosted by the South Carolina Annual Conference which sponsors and supports 33 individual shalom sites in its State?  Columbia, SC was chosen by the planning committee because of its unique rural Shalom sites and their prophetic witness to racial reconciliation and economic community development.  South Carolina was the first Annual Conference to adopt and adapt the urban ShalomZone concept to the rural context in 1994.

The National Shalom Summit 2009 was the eighth national gathering of Communities of Shalom since it began in 1992 in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles.   Previous National Summits were hosted in Stamford, Ct (1994), Charleston (1995), Philadelphia (1996), Los Angeles (1997), Houston (1998), Washington D.C. (2002), and Chicago (1997).   Columbia, SC, was chosen for the 2009 Summit, in part, because 30 of the 104 Shalom sites are located in the State.

The next National Summit is scheduled for Fall 2012 in Los Angeles—the birth place of Communities of Shalom.  By then, Dr. Christensen told participants, the three goals of the Shalom initiative should be realized: “Shalom should be ‘green’ with community gardens and organic farms; international with sites not only in Africa but in Korea, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Central and South America, the Caribbean and other countries where communities have shown interest and requested training;  and interfaith, having moved beyond Methodist to include Jewish, Muslim, and Native American faith communities.”

Background:  Communities of Shalom

Communities of Shalom currently has some 100 sites in the US and Africa. Its work is geared to local community assets and needs. Shalom communities address issues such as poverty, health, housing, micro-enterprise, and legal services for immigrants. The program is especially strong in the South Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, which is serving as host for the summit.

The initiative has United Methodist origins but is now ecumenical, or interfaith, in some communities. It was administered for 16 years by Global Ministries and, following a plan to find another institutional partner, is now based at the Theological School of Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.

Communities of Shalom–the name is taken from Jeremiah 29–was initiated by the United Methodist General Conference of 1992 in response to urban conflict in Los Angeles following the acquittal of police officers caught on videotape beating motorist Rodney King. One objective was to bring peace to communities by addressing issues such as economic opportunity and race relations.

It was supported with general church money and administered by the General Board of Global Ministries with the understanding that oversight and funding would eventually be shifted to an institution outside the mission agency. A strong link to Global Ministries continues, since Drew assumed the administration last year. Dr. Michael Christensen of the Drew faculty is the national Shalom executive.

For Further Information, contact Michael Christensen, National Director, Shalom Resource Center, Drew University.   973 408-3738