[The following article appeared in the previous issue of Boston Spirit magazine. Subscribe for free today.]
Where’s your place at the table?
DignityUSA wants everyone to know we all have one. That’s the theme of the nearly 50-year-old organization’s national conference this year—“A Place at the Table.” This 23rd annual event is being held at Boston’s Park Plaza July 6–9, making it extra easy for New Englanders to pull up a chair and take our place.
For more information, including registration, go to DignityUSA’s conference webpage.
“The table represents a lot to us,” says Conference Co-Chair Philip White, a member of the Boston chapter working closely with Dignity’s national leadership. “For a religious organization, it represents the Eucharist, the altar, the place where we all gather. But we also see the table as a place where we all gather in society. So much of what Dignity does is not only about religion and spirituality but about social justice and seeking rights for everyone.”
“Our theme this year is especially timely given the current political climate and landscapes in our country,” White adds. “What’s unique about this conference is the opportunity we’re creating to challenge ourselves to be sure that we as a community are as open about making a place at the table for others as we’re seeking a place for ourselves.”
The conference is open to “anyone who’s interested in the intersection of faith and justice and community,” White says. “People of all faiths, not just our members. And that includes our speakers and panelists. Our keynote speaker is a Methodist minister at the Boston University School of Theology.”
Dr. Pamela Lightsey is that keynote speaker, delivering an address called “Table Manners for Hungry Radicals.” Lightsey is the openly queer lesbian African-American ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She’s also an Army veteran who teaches courses on “just war” theory and LGBTQ theology at BU, where she serves as both professor and dean.
“Dr. Lightsey is perfect for our conference because she works right at the intersection of theology and activism, which is what we’re all about,” says Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA.
Also gathering around the table is a plenary panel featuring Walter V. Robinson, who led the Boston Globe Spotlight Team that won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for investigating the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests; Jamie Manson, who pens the popular “National Catholic Reporter” column “Grace in the Margins”; ex-Diocesan priest Jon Shum of Dignity/Boston; and trans-faith activist Louis Mitchell.
The exciting speaker line-up also features Boston Spirit columnist Bob Linscott, associate director of The Fenway Institute’s LGBT Aging Project; Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata, co-founders of Fortunate Families, a ministry with Catholic parents of LGBT daughters and sons; James B. Nickoloff, professor emeritus of religious studies at Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross; sociology professor Michele Dillon; Buddhist Jean Beebe; Boston playwright Nina Louise Morrison; and Krysztof Charamsa, a former high-level Vatican official who came out very publically as a gay man in a committed relationship with another man on the even of the 2015 Synod of the Family in Rome.
“We want to look at who is part of our movement, how we can connect with other movements and how we can intentionally make space at our table for a more diverse group of folks—whether that’s allies, people of color, trans people, everyone sharing our voices in the movement,” says Duddy-Burke.
For more on local and nation chapters of Dignity, go to dignityusa.org.