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Students seek hearts for justice at conference

Lauren Knowles, Leah Wright, Lauren Hughson, Donald Furlong and Natalie Valenti, recent graduates of Florida State University, drove hundreds of miles to attend the "Living Faith, Seeking Justice" conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 12, 2007 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS) 

Five recent graduates of Florida State University drove hundreds of miles to have their minds and souls stretched at an international conference on justice ministry.

"I want my heart to be a heart that seeks out justice," said Natalie Valenti, 22, as she attended the United Methodist "Living Faith, Seeking Justice" conference.

"I am not well informed about a lot of issues. I care about them, but I am not educated. It has been really wonderful to be here to be stretched and feel uncomfortable about things we don't like to confront because we don't want to step on people's toes or we don't want our own minds to change."

Valenti and four friends, all interns at the Wesley Foundation at Florida State, decided to drive from Tallahassee for the Nov. 1-4 conference in Fort Worth sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church's social action agency.

“I want my heart to be a heart that seeks out justice.”
–Natalie Valenti, 22

"The Florida Annual (regional) Conference was willing to fly two young people to the conference, but we all wanted to go," said Donald Furlong, 23. "So we used the money for the airline tickets to drive here, and we are staying at Leah's uncle's house sleeping on the couch and the floor."

Leah Wright, 22, didn't know what to expect from the event but, when she heard that activist Shane Claiborne was speaking, she said, "I was coming, there was just no doubt."

Claiborne, who founded The Simple Way, a community in inner-city Philadelphia serving the poor, was plenary speaker for the conference's last day.

"I came for Shane because his book really inspired me to want to live differently, to be informed and to figure out what my issue will be," she said. "I am so excited to be in this atmosphere."

Lauren Knowles, 22, came looking for ideas on ways to get involved and take action. "These issues we are talking about here are what matter," she said.

Knowles said she was disturbed to hear talk about The United Methodist Church splitting because of opposing ideas. "These justice issues are so worth our discussion, and it is so worth staying together no matter what our problems are," she said.

"I feel like I am called to push people to change," said Lauren Hughson, 22.

Hughson said she realized the battle for civil rights is not over after she attended a workshop by the Rev. Lawton Higgs and Mary Jones, a biracial team from Church of the Reconciler, a intentionally racially inclusive United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

"I am learning more and reading more, and I am learning I have been very close-minded and I didn't realize it because I am pretty open to things," she said. She wants to go back to her campus and "push people to think in a different way."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  


Donald Furlong: "God has written his word on our hearts."

Lauren Hughson: "I didn't realize I was close-minded."

Natalie Valenti: "I want a heart that seeks justice."

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Living Faith, Seeking Justice

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

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