Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Cheryl Finney
Am I in the right room?
Most of my life I have used this simple question to gain direction. Is the space I have placed myself, whether it be graduate school, neighborhood, or church, putting me in contact with people that reflect collectively who I want to become?
Institutions I join that are experimental, and open to new ways of being are “rooms” I will stay in. So it was inspiring to hear the way Presbyterians are redefining our “rooms” of worship at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta. Innovations like Farm Church, a new agriculturally-based Christian community in Durham focused on growing food and faith for the hungry intrigued me. Then there was Serious Ju Ju, a faith-based ministry in Montana centered on at risk teenage boys revolving around their love of skateboarding – really, how can one not love that? Both ministries have recently sprung forth and reflect new spaces of worship which excites me. So I found myself saying, “Yes!” If this is where my church is leading, I will stay.
But what has had me on edge and closer to the exit was publicly named at the conference and that is our primarily white demographic as Presbyterians. Questions were raised on how our church will respond to a world with a national legacy of structural racism born from white dominance. I was grateful to be reminded again by NEXT speakers of the vigilance needed on issues of race that I as a white American, Presbyterian, living in Baltimore, need to continue to name, own, and challenge.
While I am in the midst of this work through community organizing in Baltimore, where building relationships across racial lines is at its core, it is important to me to have the larger church own this collectively. Sharing ways we are engaging the problem of white fragility in our churches, I was reminded again of the importance of sharing public narratives of our experience with race within our congregations often.
Just as I am thrilled to hear of innovations in worship I want the church to be pioneering in the way we are being church in the racial arena. Housing voices experimenting and moving past the fear of a misstep in a conversation on race can be a space that uncovers unconscious biases that brought to light can move a people of faith into action.
I am trusting that relationships built along the way as we challenge structured systems that are racist in outcome will be fertile ground that just might change what we look like and move us to who we are called to be.
That’s the next room I want to be in!
Cheryl Finney is a ruling elder at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. A frequently challenged mother of four, she is currently working for BUILD, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, as a project organizer. Her current passion is working with “returning citizens” through a jobs movement of BUILD called Turnaround Tuesdays. She says, “developing leaders from the reentry community as they join the workforce and rediscover a civic life is the richest work I have ever had the privilege to do!”