Intercultural Retreat Brings a Rainbow of Humanity Together to Say ‘Amen!’

Two of the organizers of the 2015 Intercultural Retreat held in early May in Harrisburg, Pa., write their impressions of the gathering:

Intercultural Gathering considers what it means to be an intercultural church in 21st century

Photo by Regina Holmes
The 2015 Intercultural Retreat was held at First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., and hosted by Atlantic Northeast District.

By Mary Etta Reinhart

“All God’s People Say Amen” was the rousing theme for an inspiring weekend intercultural retreat at Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren where Belita Mitchell serves as lead pastor. Almost 150 people from 9 districts of the Church of the Brethren gathered to participate in this three-day event. The retreat was co-sponsored by Atlantic Northeast District and Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren from Friday to Sunday May 1-3. Numerous leaders and speakers offered attendees a wide variety of experiences and perspectives on what it means to be a part of an intercultural church in the 21st century.

Guest speakers included Drew Hart, an “Ana-Blacktivist” who is known for his teaching and preaching about a Christian response to issues of race and ethnicity. He encouraged an awareness of the different ways that our American culture responds to people of color by describing his personal life experience in the educational world and community living.

Joel Peña who is pastor of Alpha and Omega Church of the Brethren, a growing and vibrant Hispanic congregation in Lancaster, Pa., led a thought-provoking plenary session describing the growing population of first-, second-, and third-generation people of Hispanic background in the United States. Attendees were challenged to consider how our country and our church communities will look in 50 years as this growth trend continues.

Other leadership included Leah Hileman, who is active in the independent Christian rock scene and a pastor. She led a creative break-out session where she shared examples of the way that cultural backgrounds can influence our styles of music, so that the same hymn music can sound very different depending on the cultural background of the musicians.

Photo by Regina Holmes
A conversation during the Intercultural Retreat included keynote speaker Drew Hart (at right), an Anabaptist doctoral student at Lutheran Theological Seminary and a blogger for “Christian Century,” who spoke about racial reconciliation in the nation.

On Sunday morning LaDonna Nkosi, pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Chicago, Ill., shared a meaningful session describing her view of what is commonly known as liberation theology. Atlantic Northeast District executive minister Craig Smith shared the morning message on “Climbing Out of Your Rut,” at the Sunday morning worship that followed.

In addition to all these leaders, brief devotional sessions were interspersed throughout the weekend led by Jonathan Bream, pastor of Brooklyn (N.Y.) First Church of the Brethren; Doris Abdullah, a licensed minister at Brooklyn First; and Ron Tilley, executive director of Brethren Community Ministries of Harrisburg First. Staff of Congregational Life Ministries including Jonathan Shively, Stan Dueck, and Gimbiya Kettering also provided leadership and input to the weekend sessions and events.

The Saturday evening Praise Explosion Worship Concert was one of the high points of the event. Worship music was led by an energetic worship team under the direction of Leah Hileman and Josiah Ludwick, associate pastor at Harrisburg First and program Assistant of bcmPEACE. A variety of other participants contributed their talents to make this an enthusiastic evening of praise and worship.

A fellowship brunch on Sunday was an excellent time for participants and worshipers from Harrisburg First to mingle and unwind from a full and meaningful retreat experience that blessed many with a renewed vision of how we can live out our faith in a changing intercultural world. Many thanks to pastor Belita Mitchell and the devoted members of Harrisburg First for all their dedicated work in hosting this notable event!

— Mary Etta Reinhart is director of Witness and Outreach for the Church of the Brethren’s Atlantic Northeast District.

Photo by Regina Holmes
Drew Hart, speaking at the Intercultural Retreat

Rainbow of humanity is seen at ‘All God’s People Say Amen’

By Gimbiya Kettering

From the pews and aisles, people lifted their voices to say “Amen”–at the close of prayers, in support of the speakers, to symbolize their empathy with a story, and in praise and worship. For the 2015 Intercultural Gathering, Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren was filled with people from around the country, from the community around the church–even a brother representing EYN who came from Abuja, Nigeria. A seeming rainbow of humanity from infants to senior citizens, pastors to new believers; it was truly a gathering of all God’s people.

The theme, “All God’s People Say Amen,” was particularly poignant as “amen” is a word that is transliterated–the same in all languages, without needing any translation in a gathering that was multilingual.

Photo by Regina Holmes

The opening night, Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, spoke about the influence of “urban culture” on all our communities. On Saturday, Drew Hart, an Anabaptist doctoral student at Lutheran Theological Seminary and a blogger for “Christian Century,” spoke about racial reconciliation in our country. Joel Peña, head pastor at Alpha and Omega in Lancaster, Pa., used the demographic trends among Latino Americans to discuss how we do mission and outreach. Workshop leadership also included Stan Dueck discussing discipleship and Leah Hileman leading a session on music ministry.

Rooted in scripture and faith, much of the conversation also touched on current events and issues. Concerns that can seem so distant on the news were revealed to be relevant to all of us as sisters and brothers in Christ. People shared from their personal stories and were blessed by hearing from one another.

Of course, no Intercultural Gathering is complete without music. From traditional hymns to praise choruses, the songs were familiar. And songs were new, shared by the songwriters who performed them. Lyrics were in English and Spanish. Sometimes, it was one voice lifted and other times it was more than a hundred. All praising the glory of God. Amen!

The Intercultural Gathering was a joint project supported by Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren, the Atlantic Northeast District, and Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

— Gimbiya Kettering is director of Intercultural Ministries for the Church of the Brethren.

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