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Summer Soul-stice Going Virtual

Publication: Salina Journal

Author: Gary Demuth

The word “apocalypse” is described as “destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

An alternate, less frightening, definition of apocalypse is “to uncover or reveal,” which is how the organizers of Salina’s 2020 Summer Soul-stice have chosen to define it.

The purpose of this kind of apocalypse is to expose our societal weaknesses and delusions while, at the same time, offering a promise for real and substantive change, said Martha Rhea, co-coordinator of the annual program with Salinan Sydney Soderberg.

“The word is much more powerful than destruction, because it puts things right back on us, where it belongs,” she said.

It’s especially appropriate now, she said, in a world upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected billions of lives worldwide and has thrust the world into a frightening and uncertain future.

For eight years, Salina’s First Presbyterian Church has hosted Summer Soul-stice, a weekly series of informal, eclectic sessions organized around a specific theme and far-reaching and provocative topics. Each session is presented by a panel of diverse experts and followed by thoughtful discussions.

This year’s sessions, which usually attract diverse and multigenerational audiences, could not be scheduled live because of the pandemic. Instead, there will be three virtual sessions beginning at noon Wednesday and continuing Aug. 12 and 19 on the First Presbyterian Church website at Each session will be recorded for access on the church’s Facebook page or on YouTube.

One unexpected outcome of going online this year was the ability to schedule guest panelists who otherwise might not have been able to participate. This year’s panelists will include Gov. Laura Kelly, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, former California Gov. Jerry Brown and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Kevin Willmott.

“We were allowed to do things that we couldn’t have pulled off had it been done in the old format,” Rhea said. “We took our limitations as a positive.”

Disruption and uncertainty

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting so many people in 2020, Rhea said this year’s Summer Soul-stice was designed to focus on the societal disruption and uncertainty caused by the virus.

“In the midst of so much confusion, we knew this was the time to look for new opportunities that allowed us to bring together the best local and national minds, in a virtual format, to explore this year’s theme,” she said.

This year’s theme, “Edges of a New Community,” will be divided into three parts:

‒ Naming our losses and grieving what we must let go.

‒ Finding courage to set foundations for a new community locally, nationally and globally where life truly matters.

‒ Listening to one another for the possibilities of change that each of us must bring home and into our personal lives.

“We first look at where we are in the time of COVID, then look at the possibilities and hope for the future,” Rhea said. “The last one will bring it home, taking questions from people who have listened to the first two parts.”

Three sessions

Scheduled panelists for the three sessions of 2020 Summer Soul-stice include:

“In a Time of Covid: Fear, Loss and Change” (Aug. 5)

‒ Frank Coady – pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Manhattan and director of liturgy and adult education at the Catholic Diocese of Salina.

‒ Paula Fried – Salina psychologist, community leader and activist.

‒ Laura Kelly – governor of the state of Kansas.

“Possibilities in Hope – Hope in Possibilities” (Aug 12)

‒ Jerry Brown – former two-time governor of California.

‒ Stan Cox – research fellow in ecosphere studies at The Land Institute and author of five books, most recently “The Green New Deal and Beyond.”

‒ Kevin Willmott – film professor at the University of Kansas and Oscar-winning filmmaker.

“Are We Listening Now? — A Dialogue” (Aug. 19)

‒ Wes Jackson – emeritus president and co-founder of The Land Institute.

‒ Burdett Loomis – emeritus professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

‒ Maureen Morrison – Wichita-based clinical psychologist.

‒ Kathleen Sebelius – former governor of Kansas and secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.

All panels will be moderated by Gerald Gillespie, emeritus professor of psychology at Kansas Wesleyan University.

Rhea hopes each session will be thought-provoking and will stimulate a lot of ideas and spirited discussion.

“I hope people will make themselves available to it and leave with a sense of truth telling, but with more hope for the possibilities we have in the future,” she said. “Until something is revealed, it can’t be dealt with.”

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