By Don Shankster
Brethren from Arizona and California gathered the second weekend of November for the 52nd District Conference of the Pacific Southwest District in La Verne, Calif. Eric Bishop was this year’s moderator, choosing the theme of “Justice: Called to Be Just Christians” from Matthew 5 and 25.
Eric’s story itself is a study in justice, or the lack of justice. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, he was in the middle of the riots following the acquittal of officers in the Rodney King beatings. He has first-hand experience of profiling as he was repeatedly pulled over to be asked if he stole the car he was driving. And now we continue to see a media storm over the injustice of systems that continue to profile young people of color.
The week of district conference saw the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri because of a persistent turning of the eye away from racial taunts and violence against students on campus. So at the district conference there were sessions on justice, challenges to pick up the righteous path of Jesus to bring justice into our communities today, sessions on cultural differences, and how to bridge those.
Pastors and church leaders were offered a session before the conference under the leadership of Jeffrey Jones titled “Facing Decline, Finding Hope: New Possibilities for Faithful Churches.” Jones advocates facing the reality of the culture around us, the reality of church life, and then asking new questions. The old questions and measures of success are no longer viable. Instead of attempting to bring revival in the same old ways that don’t work, we are to go deeper into our faith, and engage the Holy Spirit in finding direction for our churches.
Instead of asking, “How do we bring them in?” Jones suggests asking, “How do we send them out?” Instead of “What should the pastor do?” ask, “What is our congregation’s shared ministry?” Instead of “What’s our vision?” ask, “What is God up to and how do we get on board?” Instead of “What are we doing to save people?” we ask, “What are we doing to make the reign of God more present in this time and place?”
During the sessions and worship we heard stories of churches finding ways to act justly in their communities–for example, making “softball” packets to pass out to the homeless, with toothpaste, toothbrush, socks, and more.
The conference worked with a query titled “Living Together as Christ Calls,” that seeks to get at the roots of the tension between members of the church. The delegates decided to accept it and send it on to Annual Conference for consideration this next summer.
The 2016 Pacific Southwest District Conference will be held at Modesto (Calif.) Church of the Brethren with John Price as moderator. Sara Haldeman-Scarr was elected as moderator-elect, to serve as moderator in 2017.
— Don Shankster is pastor of Papago Buttes Church of the Brethren in Scottsdale, Ariz., in Pacific Southwest District.