When we discovered that we were, in fact, all white, some uncomfortable questions arose. Immediately we were face to face with the ongoing, glaring sin that we all live with in the Presbyterian Church: we are whiter than God would have us be.
Like a burning bush announcing to Moses that God had some plans for him, the book-from-an-old-hymnal that began with “LOVE” shouted a reminder that God has given me an assignment in my current call: to facilitate ways for all of God’s children to enact God’s radical and abundant love.
It was at the NEXT Church National Gathering, with the help of the creative spirit of the ad hoc, crowd-sourced worship band and the workshop led by Hans Hallundbaek about the rehabilitation through arts program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, that I learned the Holy Spirit breathes life in the ties that bind us in new and interesting ways as the Body of Christ.
The Sarasota Statement has had a lot of buzz since it debuted at the National Gathering. I particularly appreciate how the statement directly addresses groups of people and actions that will be taken to bring reconciliation. This month, the congregation I pastor is taking four Sundays to walk through the Sarasota Statement in worship.
How can a community make itself more easily permeable? How can we be an open and welcoming space to those who are entering our communities for the first time?
One of the images I encountered at the National Gathering was a promise born from an ancient people trying to live into “an incarnate Kingdom of God.” Jeff Bryan reiterated that the banquet of the Lord would never fail to bring everyone to the table—literally, the whole stinking community.
This was my third National Gathering. I find these events a helpful and invigorating use of my time and a great way to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. This year was no different, but as I left Kansas City I realized that I left feeling old and very white – but in a growth-producing way.
In a day and age when so many people have chosen to write a “Dear John” letter to the church, the ministry of NEXT Church seized the opportunity to write the Sarasota Statement that actively demonstrated what it means to include one another and to seek out the alien and stranger.
When I was invited to help compose this statement of faith and action, I immediately felt a sense of apprehension. I wanted to be certain that I could bring my whole self to the occasion. It was also vital that the communities in which I hold membership and those I care for see themselves, their struggles, and passions voiced here.
Perhaps the most countercultural posture the church can proclaim and seek to embody is one of confidence and hopefulness. Such a way of faith and action may demand that we live and act counter to our own preferences at times.