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Conference on Innovation, Day Three

This is part 3 in a series of reports from the National Conference on Innovation in Columbus, Ohio. Click here to start with part 1.


I’m home. And basking in gratitude. This was my first Innovation Conference, and it more than exceeded my expectations. My praise goes out to all the speakers and participants who brought pieces of their personal experience to share around the conversation table. Special thanks goes to Raj Attiken and his helpers at the Ohio Conference, who worked so hard to make the conference possible.

This morning we finished off with two speakers, Gaspar Colon and Samir Selmanovic. Dr. Colon is Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences and is Professor of Religion at Washington Adventist University. He is also Director of the Center for Metropolitan Ministry and he has previous experience working for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). During his presentation, Dr. Colon reinforced the point of innovation: ministry must adapt creatively to meet the needs of differing contexts. He presented us with five dreams that should drive Adventist clergy and lay ministers: 1. Relevance, 2. Authenticity, 3. A Center that holds, 4. An attractive ministry, 5. Innovative change that holds true to the DNA of the everlasting gospel. Dr. Colon also shared examples from several innovative ministries functioning successfully within the church. Washington Adventist University was a partner and sponsor for the Conference on Innovation, and offered class credit to students attending the lectures.

Samir Selmanovic was the other morning presenter. And he, quite frankly, blew my mind (and my heart). Dr. Selmanovic is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and founder of FaithHouse Manhatten, an experiential interfaith community operating in New York City. I’d heard about Samir previously through friends and through the FaithHouse website, but was unsure what to expect before he began speaking this morning. I must admit I come at interfaith dialogue with some amount of suspicion— not because I don’t think it’s important, but because it is so often mushy and toothless.

Samir blasted all my reservations within a few short minutes. He took some strong stances, insisting that valuable interfaith dialogue avoids the dual pitfalls of blending dogmas down to the lowest common denominator on the one side, and enduring polite but awkward surface social gatherings on the other side. He said that people of faith actually need each other— that God is present in “the other.” Rather than that scaring or causing us to denigrate the value of our distinct faith Mysteries, God’s genuine presence in the other should come to us as dazzlingly good news. God himself is not only in the other, but he himself is the Other— incarnated, if you please, in the human strangers we get to know. This leads us into the deepest kind of togetherness, so that we no long view people as mere targets for evangelism. When people ask Samir, “What’s your target in New York?” he can honestly answer, “My own heart.”

I think the depth of Samir’s compassion is what impressed me most. His words came from a sacred place in his own experience— an experience he did not share overtly, but that could be keenly sensed within the passion and humility of his thinking. I took reams of notes and I wish I could share everything I learned with our readers. But fortunately he wrote his own book, so I don’t have to. (Check out our review here:….)

Next year the Sixth Annual Conference on Innovation will happen October 3-5 in Dublin, Ohio. If you are serious about loving God, loving people, and finding new ways to connect the two, then save the date and watch the website for updates: An impressive lineup of speakers is already being planned for 2010!

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