A unique experiment in nonviolence training and direct action will be held May 6-12, 2000, on the campus of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. Sponsored by Soulforce, Inc., the event will take place simultaneously with the General Conference of the United Methodist Church at the Cleveland Convention Center, just one mile from the Cathedral. People of faith from any faith tradition are invited to participate in all or part of the seven day event.
"Sometime during that historic week," explains Mel White, a co-founder of Soulforce, Inc., "one thousand clergy and lay delegates representing more than eight million United Methodists will make the most important decision they have made since slavery. They will decide to open their arms to God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children or they will vote to turn us away. That decision will have serious consequences not just for the Methodists but for millions of our sisters and brothers in North America and around the world. Soulforce will be there in the spirit of love and reconciliation to help our United Methodist friends see the truth and act upon it or to confront and condemn their untruth if they do not."
Soulforce is an interfaith, ecumenical network of people of faith committed to teach and apply the nonviolence principles of Gandhi and King on behalf of justice for all God's children. The Soulforce University in Cleveland is open to anyone interested in seeking justice for sexual minorities. Delegates will participate in worship, study, negotiation and direct action under the leadership of teachers and activists seasoned in the ways of nonviolence and spiritual renewal.
The seven-day schedule will include experiences with group worship, individual meditation, and other time-honored techniques in the care and keeping of our souls from many faith traditions. Beginning and advanced training in the "soul force" principles of nonviolence [including advanced training in negotiation, direct action and civil disobedience] will prepare delegates to apply them in Cleveland and beyond.
There will also be skill sessions on working with the media, networking with other justice and peace organizations, teaching the principles locally, and applying the principles in our homes and churches. Attendees who desire can be certified as Soulforce teachers and organizers. Clergy may use the experience for continuing education credits. No enrollment or tuition fees will be charged. However, delegates must sign a pledge to nonviolence before participating in any direct action. Housing will be made available in the Cathedral and with local families for those who request it on a first-come, first-served basis.
Evening sessions will include a Soulforce Film Festival, informal meetings with living heroes and sheroes of nonviolence, times for learning music of the liberation movement, walking the Labyrinth, a jazz concert, poetry readings, spirit-drama, drumming, and dance. Each evening will end with vespers in the Cathedral.
"With Trinity as our campus," says Gary Mitchener, Provost of the first Soulforce University, "attendees will have a rare opportunity to worship, study, and live together in an historic, beautiful and sacred space. Modern universities were born in the Cathedrals of Europe. Students lived, studied, worked, and worshipped together. We will work to recreate that sense of God's family as we worship and do justice together."
During the week, some Soulforce delegates will fast, hold vigil, and keep the flame of truth burning at the convention center; while others will help the coalition of pro-GLBT organizations within United Methodism as they work to bring truth to delegates and alternates from around the world. Attendees are also invited to prepare for a major nonviolent direct action towards the end of the week if the United Methodists continue to make outcasts of God's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered children.
"After leaving a main stream denomination because of fear of rejection and walking into a United Methodist Church fifteen years later to be rejected once again was a precipitating point for my original journey into Soulforce," says Karen Weldin, a co-chair of S.F.U. and current MCC member. "Going to Cleveland is a continuation of my own healing and an opportunity to continue answering God's call to work for justice. I encourage all persons of faith who have experienced the suffering, or understand this suffering, to join us in Cleveland to continue the renewal of our spirits and healing of our souls. We are all called to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. See you in Cleveland."
"We are going to Cleveland to witness the power of love in action in our lives and in the lives of my Methodist sisters and brothers," explains Greg Marlan, a co-chair of S.F.U. and a lifelong Methodist. "Whether you join us for a day or for the entire week we who have been on other Soulforce Direct Actions guarantee that your spirit will be renewed and your life changed forever."
For further information contact: SFU@soulforce.org.