Update June 17, 2021: The UTO has decided to postpone this conference to 2022.
After a pandemic year that took so much away from so many people, many are feeling that there’s no better time than the present to celebrate and be grateful for blessings. An occasion for focusing on the theology of gratitude is coming up this fall, as the Diocese of Massachusetts and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston will be hosting (virtually and, it is hoped, in person) the second annual churchwide United Thank Offering (UTO) Theology of Gratitude Conference, Oct.15-17.
“We are emerging from the pandemic both with lament and grief and a sense of loss, but also much clearer about what matters and much more attuned to the gift of life itself, the preciousness of every day,” the Very Rev. Amy McCreath, the dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, said in an interview that included diocesan Missioner for Networking and Formation Martha Gardner.
“I’m feeling that and seeing that in our worship at the cathedral and hearing that from all corners, and [the UTO conference is] just a chance to be together and worship and celebrate and connect after being disconnected and away from one another for so long,” McCreath said.
The United Thank Offering (UTO) awards grants to support innovative mission and ministry throughout The Episcopal Church and provinces of the Anglican Communion, and for the conference, scholars have been invited by the UTO to submit proposals for papers they'd like to present that engage in exploring expressions of gratitude while living in our current complex world.
In addition to the presentation of scholars’ papers, organizers are aiming for a week of panel discussions, storytelling, art, music and more--building in different opportunities to reflect on gratitude. There will be chances for people to share stories of gratitude that will most likely center around a “Moth”-style evening of storytelling, and there will be opportunities for people to express their gratitude through the cathedral’s Ministry of the Steps activities.
“When I hear someone else’s story, it expands my awareness of the things that I should be grateful for and it also teaches me something about that person,” McCreath said. “We become who we are in community, right? So if we’re a community that’s sharing gratitude, that shapes us.”
Local organizers hope to offer some evening devotions centered around gratitude the week leading up to the conference, and to solicit art from children around the diocese along the same theme, to be displayed as an exhibit in the cathedral throughout the October conference. They also hope to offer a multicultural celebration of gratitude that will include song and hopefully food, storytelling and the sharing of cultural customs and folktales around gratitude--all focused on encouraging people to learn and expand their sense of how to give thanks.
“I think that as Episcopalians, we are blessed to be connected to one another and have the ability to--through the UTO and other means--bless one another through our giving and our gratitude, and we all need to do that more. It’s very countercultural,” McCreath added.
The United Thank Offering encourages people to notice the good things that happen each day, give thanks to God for those blessings and make an offering for each blessing using a UTO "Blue Box” offering container. The UTO receives the offerings from people across the church, and distributes 100 percent of what is collected through its grants program, according to the UTO website.
Diocesan Missioner for Networking and Formation Martha Gardner said that, in addition to exploring the theology of gratitude, she hopes that hosting the UTO conference can help bring some awareness to the diocese about UTO and using those “little blue boxes” as a tangible way to develop a regular spiritual practice and habit of giving thanks.
“What I love about UTO is that money grows and then it all comes back to grants that support wonderful work that we’re grateful for,” Gardner said. “It’s just a win-win that our gratefulness gets somehow translated to be supporting these other ministries.”
--Bridget K. Wood
For more information about the UTO conference, as it becomes available, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/ministries/united-thank-offering.
To volunteer to help with local conference activities, contact Martha Gardner at email@example.com.