By PAUL A. BARRA
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dozens of religious educators from the Diocese of Charleston were among the 1,650 registered participants in the annual East Coast Conference for Religious Education held at the Omni Shoreham March 4-7. The diocesan director of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis said that he was both impressed and gratified by the turnout.
“I’m amazed that nearly 100 of us came to this,” Paul Schroeder said. “It gives us all an opportunity for enrichment and a tremendous chance to hear many national speakers.”
Schroeder said that it was reassuring to see the interest in religious educators from South Carolina in enhancing their formation and ministries.
Joan Cato, veteran director of religious education from St. John the Beloved in Summerville, went one step further.
“I’m proud. This turnout shows that we are taking it (religious education) seriously, that there’s life out there, a spirit of renewal, possibly,” Cato said. “There is something here to touch everybody.”
Some of those things that touched Brother Paul Cullen, an Xaverian who directs Christian formation at Holy Trinity in Orangeburg, were ethereal. He engaged conference webmaster Jason Powell and other computer types in long, pointed discussions about the value of cyberspace technology in his ministry.
“Their concern was that dioceses appear to be using computers in appropriate ways, but not enough parishes are using the Internet for religious education,” Cullen said.
He came home with plenty of new information and tips, and with new additions to his network of resources. That, according to Schroeder, is an important aspect of national conferences in one’s ministry — networking among other people doing the same kind of service that you are doing.
Conference participants from the Church of Charleston also learned and were inspired by the speakers and workshop presiders they met.
Keynote speaker Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., was forceful in denoting the challenges facing the Catholic Church on the cusp of the third millennium.
“It’s good to see people in ministry who are prophetic,” Schroeder said.
Doris and Charles M. Easterling of St. Peter in Columbia, came to Washington because of their own experience at similar conferences years ago in New Orleans. They began their shared church ministries through their attendance as a couple at national conferences.
“We were excited to come back here,” said Deacon Easterling. “The enthusiasm and knowledge of the presenters spoke to me.”
Those presenters included dozens of world-famous experts on such ministries as music, liturgy, history, education and spirituality, including Jaime Cortez, Bishop Matthew Clark, Rev. Gerald Fogarty, Robert Wicks and Eva Maria Lumas.
Another popular offering at the East Coast Conference for Religious Education was the presentation of texts and other publications in the field. At least 50 manned display booths augmented talks and workshops presented by publishing houses.
“It was an opportunity to see the vendors and talk to them. Their professionalism and knowledge was impressive, much better than looking through a catalogue,” Easterling said.
Many DREs were shopping for new religious series for next year’s classes; job offerings and continuing education opportunities were also part of the conference, along with parties and other chances to network.