IRCA 23 was hosted by Wartburg Seminary and held in a Best Western hotel in
Dubuque. Rev. Dr. Mark Yackel-Juleen, Wartburg Director of the Centre for
Theology and Land and professor of Small Town and Rural Ministries, was the
chair of IRCA this quadrennial.
There were 20 IRCA registrants, 3 from Canada (Catherine and Eric with his wife
Annette); 4 from the US, 4 from New Zealand, 3 from Kenya and 1 from Zambia, 2
from the UK, 1 from India, 1 from Romania, and 1 from Korea. US Visas were
difficult to get, and so having 7 who received them was very good. A lot of other
people had applied who did not get visas. IRCA is able to give scholarships to
those who come from third-world countries. An issue for IRCA is that we have
never had participation from Latin America, but one of the US delegates this year
was Roberto Ochoa, a Latino on staff of United Church of Christ who has good
connections in Mexico and other places.
This year for the first time we offered a zoom connection so people could join in
real time. There were some who used this option, like Margaret from India who
attended nearly the whole event; she had not been able to get a visa to the US,
but joined the discussion program.
The Keynote addresses were truly memorable. The first was Dr. Gil Waldkoenig,
who talked about Soundscape, and the spirituality of listening to creation, both
human and non-human, and perhaps more importantly the non-human voices.
What are we not hearing of the sounds of the earth and living things humans
share the earth with? He ended with the words of Thomas Merton noting “the
whole world runs by rhythms I have not learned to discern”. Merton sought to go
out to hear the sounds of creation and Creator, to cross the threshold leading to
the work of listening.
The second keynote address was given by Dr. Heather Major, called Embodied,
Contextual and Rural. It was the field research she had done in the borders of
Scotland for her PhD thesis. These churches are growing smaller and losing social
power. Heather notes the current model of ministry is unsustainable, as it is
overly dependent on clergy, crippled by maintenance costs, and increasingly
isolated and inward looking. (Does this sound familiar?)
The new IRCA Leadership Team for the next quadrennial is: Heather Major Chair,
Eric Skillings Secretary/Treasurer, Robyn McPhail Communications, Mark Yackel-
Juleen, Past Chair, and Dave Ruesink (Texas) as Member Emeritus and our
historical connection. IRCA Regions are represented by representatives elected at
the meeting – for IRCA Africa, IRCA Asia, IRCA Oceania, IRCA North America and
The Arthur Rank Centre (where IRCA all started back in 1995) will be an IRCA
partner and the repository of our physical records. All addresses and other parts
of the program are available for watching on the IRCA website, www.irca.online .