By Randy Miller
Brethren from Pacific Southwest District congregations met recently to talk about how to put hands and feet on a unity statement they adopted in 2007. Some 30 Brethren gathered March 28-30 at Principe de Paz Church of the Brethren in Santa Ana, Calif., to talk about how they could be more intentional in their efforts to build bridges across racial, cultural, ethnic, and religious boundaries.
“The idea for this conference was to listen to what is going on in our urban churches,” said Gimbiya Kettering, coordinator of Intercultural Ministries for the denomination, who facilitated discussion. “At some conferences, outside speakers offer information to participants about what they should do. Here, the idea was to create a listening environment, and get a sense of where people in this district want to go.”
The unity statement that PSWD adopted in 2007 centered around John 13: 34-35, in which Jesus told his followers to love one another as he had loved them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It’s one thing to adopt a statement–something which, conferees observed, districts and denominations are adept at doing–it’s another to put the words of the statement into action. Seated before an easel and a dry-erase board in a small alcove off the Principe de Paz sanctuary, participants shared ideas about how to put John 13: 34-35 into motion in their own churches, and in their district.
The diversity in their backgrounds was readily apparent. There was Roxanne, from Reedly, Calif., near Fresno, whose father was Mexican, and whose mother was Mexican-American. There was Steve, an African-American born in an Illinois farming community who moved to Compton, Calif., near Los Angeles, when he was 5, and who speaks fluent Spanish. There was Richard, a Brethren pastor originally from Ecuador, but who has lived in Chicago, as well as northern and southern California. And there was Russ, a white co-pastor of a church in California’s central valley, who has struggled to find ways to reach out to other groups in his district.
“What kind of redemptive community can we be?” asked Joe Detrick, acting district executive. “This district needs to be faithful to what it called itself to be, to what we’ve committed ourselves to be,” he said, referring to the unity statement of 2007.
“Being intercultural is integral to being Christian,” said Jenn Hosler, community outreach coordinator for Washington (D.C.) City Church of the Brethren, who is studying Brethren churches in urban settings. “It’s not just something that’s optional or ‘cool.’ It’s part of being Christian. We’re not fully who God has called us to be if we’re not together.”
Gilbert Romero, a member of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board and former pastor of Restoration Los Angeles (formerly Bella Vista) Church of the Brethren, offered some perspective. “Some people ask me, ‘Why do you stay in the Church of the Brethren?’ I tell them it’s because we’re a stubborn people. It probably comes from our Germanic background. I believe that, in time, with God, all things will work together for the good. God glues us together. I don’t see color differences. We’re all in this together. At Annual Conference, we argue, we hash things out. But at the end of Conference, we’re all together.”
After two days of listening to each others’ stories, conferees agreed to keep the discussion going and continue to find ways to build bridges across cultural barriers.
“We know people because we know their stories,” Kettering observed. “Individuals have to share their stories in order for the organization to work…. This conversation has got to keep going.”
By the end of the conference, participants had drawn up a list of things they could do to continue the conversation and bridge-building, including potlucks, song circles, and “cross-pollinating” worship.
Thinking about what could develop in the district–and even across the denomination–one participant observed, “That’s what I like about the Church of the Brethren–it’s that word ‘Brethren.’ You’re all my brothers and sisters. We’re family.”
— Randy Miller edits the Church of the Brethren magazine “Messenger.”