As children, we’re often taught to “color between the lines,” but thanks to a United Methodist agency grant, clergy and laity in the New York Conference are exploring what it means to color beyond the lines to include all of God’s children.
In early March, some 36 participants, representing clergy and laity from 13 churches, attended a weekend retreat entitled, “Coloring Beyond the Lines.” The program was funded through a $13,650 grant from the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR).
Metropolitan District Superintendent Denise Smartt Sears saw the grant invitation in a weekly email from the conference, and submitted a proposal. Her goal was to strengthen the cultural competency of selected clergy and laity teams within the NYAC. Participating clergy and laity would create strategic plans to actively cross racial and cultural boundaries in their communities to work toward racial justice and equity.
“Too often we tolerate each other instead of learning how to work together and build a true community,” she said via an email. “The NYAC grant offered us an opportunity to deepen the conversation of race, gender, and cultural differences and equips us to be ‘culturally competent’ in an ever changing world.”
Some of the clergy had gathered under a previous grant to strengthen their cultural competency, and then had covenanted together to include more clergy and laity in the next round. The second grant included training sessions on how to become a “coach” and developing a design team to organize the retreat.
They were joined at the retreat by facilitators Rev. Giovanni Arroyo from GCORR; Rev. Stephen Handy, pastor of McKendree UMC in Nashville and the design team’s trainer; and Rev. Dr. Traci West, an elder in the NYAC and professor of Christian Ethics at Drew Theological School.
The participants worshiped together and were offered workshop components that were educational (learn something new), practical (engage and plan), reflective (what was your experience), and change-oriented (how to work through process of change). The clergy and laity also worked on developing a covenant as well as initiating a Mission Action Plan.
The goals for the event at Camp Olmsted included:
- Transforming the culture of congregations
- Encouraging clergy to lead culturally conscious worship
- Breaking down walls of separation by removing linguistic and racial barriers
- Creating new spaces for all of God’s people
Rev. Jessica Anschutz, who is pastor of Central Valley UMC and was part of the original covenant group of clergy, will be coaching a congregation to become more culturally competent.
“In my current setting, it’s apparent that those who gather in the church do not look like all those who live in our community,” she wrote in an email. “So, there’s work to be done… in order to be effective in ministry in an intercultural community, our ministries, worship and community life must be culturally conscious.”
After the retreat, the clergy and laity who created covenants will be coached through two more sessions in the upcoming months. Part of the coaching sessions will discuss the progress of their mission action plans.
The required participation of laity in the Coloring Beyond the Lines model is one of the reasons that Rev. Matthew Curry, pastor of Grace UMC in Valley Stream, got involved.
“In order to attend this CBTL event, pastors had to bring at least one layperson,” Curry wrote in an email. He also believes that the commitment of the coaches to rigorous and intentional engagement with their assigned churches is critical.
“The added qualities of laity involvement and a coaching relationship will give it a greater chance to make a lasting impact for the churches involved and the conference as a whole,” he said.
Members of the design team will also share their newfound learning about culturally-conscious worship and strengthening cultural competencies with pastors in new appointments at the May 31 orientation at New Rochelle UMC.
Rev. Smartt Sears admitted there is so much work still to be done.
“We hope to continue this work though another grant in order to increase the number of clergy and laity growing in cultural competency, to help our clergy and laity transform the culture of their congregations,” she wrote.
This story, written by Rev. Wongee Joh and augmented by Vision Editor Joanne S. Utley, first appeared in the April 15, 2014, edition of The Vision, the newspaper of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.