Tuesday, March 4, 2008

LA Religious Education Congress

I just returned from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, held at the Anaheim Convention Center last weekend. On Thursday, they had 15,000 youth there for Youth Day. There were no exhibits open or available, and so I joined the 2 teachers and 5 students from Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento for most of the day. I had driven down to LA from Napa with a vanload of stuff for the booth, but I couldn't set it up until after Youth Day was done at 3:30 PM.

Once the exhibit hall became available, it took about an hour to set everything up. The pop-up booth worked very well, and the carpet, furniture, etc. that I had brought all fit rather nicely. The following day, Friday, is when the 25,000 educators would begin to show up and wander through the 225 booths gathered there in the hall, if they weren't attending one of the many workshops available.

At first, I put out the nifty 18-by-24 inch calendars out with a "Free Poster!" sign, and people did stop by and pick one up occasionally. (The poster had a photomosaic on the left side and a calendar until June 2009 on the right side.) But that all changed when Br. Roch Dufresne came from Cathedral High School to help me. He took a stack of posters, stood in the middle of the aisle, and asked people "Are you a teacher?" " Do you know who your patron saint is?" "Have a poster for you classroom!" and similar interactive phrases. It soon became apparent to me that you have to be active, and not pastive, when doing something like this. Pretty soon we were doing a land-office business and the posters started flying. People really liked the photomosaic and the good quality of the posters themselves.

Br. Roch looked to be a pro at all this. He inspired me to do the same and pretty soon I was wading into the crowd also, interacting and handing out the posters. The other "trick" was to also carry the brochures for the Brothers' vocation and to give a brochure with the poster to any young man who came by. It was a long day, starting at 8:00 AM and ending at 5:00 PM with really no break anywhere, but it was worth it.

Saturday was the same, and by the middle of the afternoon we were out of posters, having given out some 3200 of them. We could have used more, but I had no idea how many would be able to be given out and so I ordered an average number of them. After the posters were gone, there was less interest in the booth, of course, but people did stop by and look over the material or chat. During the two days, Br. William Carriere also came by to help. And a number of people from the area stopped to speak with him, since he was the Director of Education for the Diocese of Orange (the diocese within which the conference takes place) for many years. And Br. Phong, who was doing a couple of workshops in Vietnamese, and Bishop Garcia (former auxiliary bishop of Sacramento and now bishop of Monterrey) stopped by.

I explored the rest of the exhibit hall during the "off" times, when most people were in workshops. This way I came to see what the other religious orders had done for their vocation booths. It was clear that the booth needed to be something inviting and attractive. Based on their example, next year I will likely get a double-wide booth and include a kind of living room sitting area where people can come and relax. I also ran into several vocation directors for other religious communities who gave me an update on their efforts, sharing ideas and suggestions about conferences to attend and so on.

Sunday was similar, except that everything shut down at 3:00 PM and I packed everything up into the van and drove back to Napa, arriving around midnight.