By Jessica Connor
In the Kingdom of God there is no United Methodist section or Presbyterian section, no white or African-American section. We are all together as the body of Christ.
And it's time we started living into that during Sunday morning worship.
That is the idea behind Building God's Beloved Community, a training May 31 and June 1 by the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Set for Columbia, the training is for congregational specialists, the Advocacy team of Conference Connectional Ministries, the bishop and extended cabinet, and members of the conference Ministry Advisory Team. Leading the training will be the UMC s General Commission on Religion and Race along with i-Relate, a leadership institute of the ultra-diverse California-Pacific Annual Conference.
It s not an ˜anti-racism training, said the Rev. Ken Nelson, conference congregational specialist for African-American ministries.
Rather, it s an all God s children train-the-trainer session, equipping individuals and groups with relevant tools, resources, training and coaching so they can develop stronger relationships across and within cultural and racial communities.
It s all about relationships, Nelson said.
The training is an offshoot of a resolution passed by the Annual Conference in 2010 on combating the sin of racism. Among other things, that resolution tasked the office of Connectional Ministries to design a training event on combating the sin of racism in the local church, and report about this at Annual Conference 2012. (See sidebar this page for full resolution text.)
For the past two years, Nelson and others have been working hard behind the scenes to make this training a reality “ studying causes of intolerance, praying for healing, partnering with other groups who seek racial understanding. Now it s coming together.
The faith community already has a vision of what the Kingdom of God looks like. It s a community of Shalom. But while we may be aware of that vision, do our actions reflect living into that vision? Nelson said. We have visions of this church we want to embody, but we somehow live in separate enclaves on Sunday mornings, even if the rest of the week we do not.
Especially in the faith community, where we envision communities of shalom and a world that reflects more and more of God s dream for humanity, equipping church leadership at the denominational, conference and local church levels with the highest standards of cross-cultural competency is absolutely vital, said the Rev. Sun Hee Kim, consultant and trainer for i-Relate who also pastors St. Paul UMC, Fremont, Calif. Boards and agencies, leaders in the Annual Conference and, in particular, clergy and laity at the local church level need to be trained not only in ˜sensitivity but more so in ˜competency. While the first is about awareness, the second is about action.
Not only will the training help with racial healing and understanding, but it also could help the church reach more people and be more relevant and vital. After all, the need for cross-racial understanding is not going to go away. The United States has an increasingly diverse population, and culture and racial diversity is the norm, not the exception. Interracial and intercultural unions produce children who deftly move between these lines, and the church should be doing the same, Nelson said.
Sixty-six percent of the U.S. is white, and yet 92 percent of the UMC in the U.S. is white, Nelson said. Our denomination is becoming less diverse, yet society is becoming more diverse.
As he said, We re lagging instead of leading.
Dr. Barbara Isaacs, program ministries team leader for GCORR, said the training will be significant in helping the church be more relevant, especially to young people.
The majority of our children and grandchildren have broken through historical walls of separation decades ago and are miles ahead of us on this journey, Isaacs said. While churches were stuck in enclaves of homogeneity, our schools and places of work overflowed with new faces of the global community. If we want to see the twentysomething young adults in our church pews, then we need to step it up in regards to our own intercultural sensitivities and communication skills in the pulpit, the pew and the witness.
Kim agreed, saying she feels it is critical for the body of Christ to be equipped with cultural competency.
These actions are needed in a world where many are hurt and feel excluded, so that the dream of acceptance and the love of God can be offered and experienced, Kim said.
Isaacs said the newly trained laity and clergy teams should be better equipped to go back into local congregations and help them have the tools they need to bring the Good News to those who have historically known our churches to be unwelcoming. These teams will be bearers of truth, light and hope ¦ symbols of our Christian journey to wholeness, Isaacs said.
For more information on the training, email Nelson at email@example.com .
Resolution on Combating the Sin of Racism
WHEREAS, Scripture affirms that all human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); and
WHEREAS, Jesus Christ commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 15:21); and
WHEREAS, St. Paul teaches us that in Christ there is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free (Galatians 3:28); and
WHEREAS, The Declaration of Independence of the United States declares: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness ; and
WHEREAS, we are aware that racism is still prevalent in this nation; and
WHEREAS, we deplore and denounce all forms of prejudice, bigotry and discrimination, wherever they exist; and
WHEREAS, as Christians, we are compelled to condemn all forms of racism in South Carolina and our nation;
WHEREAS, we recognize the failures of Christians to carry out the commitments we have made for racial justice,
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church urges confession, repentance and prayer for the healing of memories, narrow-mindedness and intolerance; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the South Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Conference pledges to partner with all persons or groups who seek racial understanding and reconciliation; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the South Carolina Annual Conference calls for a more extensive study of the underlying causes of the rejection of other human beings because of race, ethnic background, gender, creed, social or economic status; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church supports the South Carolina Conference United Methodist Women and the South Carolina Christian Action Council and all other concerned organizations to explore ways of supporting communities and persons who a
re experiencing the trauma of racial bias, conflict and injustice.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Office of Connectional Ministries in consultation with the Bishop, the Extended Cabinet and the Ministry Advisory Team design a training event or consultation during the year 2011 on combating the sin of racism in the local church and annual conference and that a report be made on this effort at the 2012 session of S.C. Annual Conference.
“ Submitted by The Commission on Religion and Race, The Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Women and COSROW.