The Words of the Schanker Family
On December 11-13, 70 Blessed Family Department (BFD) representatives from all 12 districts, representing virtually every state in the USA, gathered at the conference center in Barrytown, NY for the 2009 National BFD Conference. While these national gatherings have been held successfully for several years running, it was apparent that this year's conference was able to reach an entirely new level in response to President In Jin Moon's strong emphasis upon healthy families and communities. Participation doubled that of previous years, as each district worked hard to build a capable and effective team to support their families and young people.
A number of professional Unificationist counselors, marriage educators and social workers attended, prepared to help with the development of a nationwide network of family resources. Participants from across the country looked forward to concluding at the Lovin' Life Worship Service, and an opportunity to meet with In Jin Nim to understand her vision.
The conference opened Friday morning under the theme "Building Community; Serving Families." BFD Director Rev. Phillip Schanker outlined the three primary goals of the conference:
1. To inherit In Jin Nim's vision,
2. To strengthen the national BFD network and
3. To equip and empower each district team.
As the conference opened, Rev. Schanker presented a special plaque to Jim and Hiromi Stephens, acknowledging with gratitude their five years of service to the BFD and the families of the Unification movement.
Conference sessions were organized around several main areas: building healthy communities, new guidelines for matching and Blessing, developing a strong network of counseling and ministry resources, and working cooperatively with the Education Department, Blessed Family Association and church leadership.
The "Building Healthy Communities" session featured some of the best practices from around the country. Innovative models of marriage education for second generation couples from Washington, DC and Bridgeport, and multi-generational, family-oriented small groups from Oregon were presented. National BFD counselor Mrs. Debby Gullery introduced Marriage Mentoring as an effective method to build healthier marriages and communities. Several districts committed to establish trial programs, and were provided training material from the national BFD.
Mrs. Josie Hauer, co-director of the Center for Character and Culture and government marriage specialist, led an interactive session designed to help everyone personally define their role and relationship to the BFD, identify resources and consider the parameters for their work. Heather Thalheimer, Unification Church National Education Director, shared her experience working to implement In Jin Nim's vision for youth and families, and the importance of a cooperative relationship with the BFD to develop a strong network of education and support. Youth leader and Lovin' Life MC Dave Hunter shared deeply about the Back on Track Ministry for BCs who have had relationships outside of the Blessing and are seeking to reconnect or reevaluate the Principle and the Blessing. This honest and real talk gave everyone hope and greater understanding.
We had several speakers representing the national Blessed Family Association (BFA), a strong community-based partner and resource for the BFD. Noah Ross, a long-time board member of BFA, explained the similarities and differences between the two organizations and illustrated how BFD representatives could utilize the BFA website and ministry resources. He demonstrated how to use the website's well-developed "Matchbook" program as a networking tool for candidates and families in the process of matching our Second Generation. Mark Johnson, who is also on the BFA Board, explained the Families and Friends of the Ascended Ministry and the Heart to Heart Ministry.
One of the most sought-after sessions was that on the new matching and Blessing guidelines for 1st and 2nd generation. It began with a video and report on Father's recent matching and was facilitated by National BFD representatives Reverend Schanker, Debby Gullery, and Hiromi Stephens. There were plenty of questions and dialogue, and everyone felt inspired about the growing development of clear international guidelines for the matching and Blessing.
We introduced our newest project, one suggested to us by In Jin Nim herself. Out of her deep concern for and understanding of our Blessed Children, she has asked us to create a National Helpline so that our young people will never have to feel that they are alone, with no one to reach out to for support. There was a tremendous response among conference participants, and a planning and development team was launched, including some of our most capable professionals.
Mrs. Hiromi Stephens led a special "Train the Trainer" session for Japanese-speaking participants where she presented a Japanese-language family and parenting program, and provided materials so that they could return to their states and teach it themselves. In Jin Nim specifically asked Hiromi to support our Japanese and part-Japanese families, and Hiromi developed a weekly "Japanese Circle" meeting at the Lovin' Life Learning Center in Manhattan.
Mrs. Betsy Jones, one of our elder Blessed members, and a pioneer of the American BFD thirty years ago, gave a detailed and moving testimony of how True Parents directly interviewed, matched and counseled the earliest Blessed couples. She wept with gratitude for the leadership and heart that True Children are providing, and shared how In Jin Nim has personally reached out to elder BCs who have been alienated from the movement, and how deeply it has touched their hearts.
The conference provided ample opportunity for BFD reps to meet in groups for discussion and planning, by district and by interest and theme. And there were plenty of laughs as well. Friday evening offered an opportunity for groups of participants to express their creativity by writing songs and skits about the matching and Blessing. Imagine singing "Match, match, match your kids" to the tune of 'Row, row, row your boat!" On Saturday night, we shared reflections and testimonies, heard reports and music, and sang Christmas Carols, concluding with "Silent Night" and a closing prayer. In addition to a library of DVD presentations from professional marriage educators for each district, each participant received an audio CD of marriage education resources and a Lovin' Life T-shirt.
On the following morning, the entire conference drove down to New York City to attend the Lovin' Life Worship Service at the Manhattan Center, with a special luncheon provided by our National President and Senior Pastor, In Jin Nim. After lunch, In Jin Nim gathered the participants for a heart-to-heart sharing. Dismantling the audience-style set-up, she pulled everyone into a circle, inviting our questions, experiences and concerns. She listened attentively, shared from her heart as always, and in the process made her concerns and priorities for our Blessed Children and families profoundly clear to this national support team.
Participants expressed overwhelming satisfaction with and support for the program. The opportunity to connect with In Jin Nim's vision and heart was the predominant high point. Other reflections included:
"I appreciate the obvious effort that was put into creating a BFD vision. I can finally feel that love is beginning to filter down in our movement, and that we are transitioning to a new age."
"The conference content was honest, timely, relevant and up-to-the-minute. The most important thing we have to address is the heart of our Blessed Families and the next generation."
"Taking this time to be together as representatives from all over the country is so important for our movement. It's a time and place where we can be honest and get the support, feedback and vision that will strengthen us to do a better job back home. I'm glad that some district directors and professional counselors, and so many 'new recruits,' could come."
The general sense of vision, hope and encouragement that everyone felt was perhaps best expressed by Betsy Jones: "This was the best BFD conference I have ever attended!"