Each year the conference revolves around a central theme. Participants are encouraged to bring examples of how their own congregations relate to the theme. The 2016 theme is:
Poverty, Wealth, and Worship
In a society troubled by growing economic inequality, how do the worship, music, and art of specific congregations proclaim God’s mercy and justice, and how might they do so more fully? How do the worship, music, and art of the church stir the imagination and passion of those who are “rich in things but poor in soul,” as one hymn puts it? What part do they have in God’s activity to “fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty,” as Mary sings in Luke’s Gospel, and as the church sings with her in worship?
To ponder the dynamics of poverty and wealth at Christian worship is to encounter the surprising reversals of which Mary sings and to which Scripture testifies. A child’s lunch becomes a nourishing meal for thousands; hungry outcasts become guests at a grand banquet; a barn full of money proves to be worthless, though costly ointment poured out in worship becomes a sign of radical love. Basic patterns of Christian worship embody concern for human need and economic justice in countless ways. Gifts are shared, bread is broken and consumed, prayers for the well-being of all are offered, and more. In worship, the assembly responds to God’s own generosity and anticipates the new creation God both promises and provides.
Actual congregations embody these patterns and express these concerns within local settings shaped by distinctive economic realities and regional, national, and global contexts torn by economic inequity. Often, congregations address issues of wealth and poverty through social ministries and financial benevolence. Worship addresses God, not issues, and art that is didactic is readily dismissed, so simplistic connections may not bear the fruit we would wish. Yet these core practices of the church are indispensable to the formation of Christian communities able to envision alternatives to prevailing injustices, resist assumed hierarchies and divisions, and embody Jesus’ love for the poor. What life-giving forms are these practices taking today? How do congregations draw on specific traditions in worship, music, and art as they grow in faithful response to God within a world where disparities of poverty and wealth persist, and how might they do so more fully?
Further reflections on this theme to spur ideas can be found here.