Strengthening Connections Across Cultures

October 7, 2021 | | GNJ News

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. – Revelation 7:9

While speaking to a group in the King Chapel at Cornell College in the small town of Mount Vernon, IA, on Oct. 15, 1962, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

With these prophetic words heard nearly 59 years ago on the minds of some along with a dedication to embrace diversity and foster inclusion, more than 50 people turned out for GNJ’s Cross-Racial and Cross-Cultural (CRCC) Workshop in July for those pastors and churches who received a cross-racial and/or cross-cultural appointment starting on July 1, 2021.

The intent of the gathering was to provide pastors and laity with the awareness of barriers, challenges and blessings of cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments, as well as to build new skillsets and learn how to welcome and embrace a new pastor.

“There was really great info shared. It brought to light what we need to be intentional about,” said Laura Jaskot, lay representative and worship committee chair at Broad Street UMC where she has been a member over 30 years.

In 2017, GNJ approved a 10-year intercultural competency plan at the Annual Conference with the intention of developing laity and clergy so that we continue to strengthen and grow diversity, inclusion and collaboration in our local churches, communities and GNJ. A Journey of Hope plan approved at the 2020 Annual Conference serves to deepen and integrate this intercultural competency work.

Jaskot added that the small group breakouts in which people were able to meet new people, read a passage from Genesis and exchange ideas were beneficial to her group.

“They just help people do better, keep us accountable,” the longtime lay leader added.

This past July, Broad Street UMC welcomed Pastor Teaira Parker, who is not only a Black pastor but is also the church’s first female pastor and the youngest pastor in the past 30 years.

During the workshop, participants discussed Eric H. F. Law’s book, The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb and delved its Community Bible Study format by All Saints Lutheran Church in Davenport, IA.

The workshop also featured Public Narrative work by Dr. Marshall Ganz in which he discusses the story of self, story of us and story of now, as well as the Breakthrough team’s I See You series.

GNJ has more than 100 cross racial-cross cultural appointments, which is roughly 23% of its churches. These appointments occurred in each region of GNJ and included pastors from various backgrounds.

Rev. Dr. Tiffany Murphy, pastor at Zion UMC in Clarksboro; Rev. Dr. Stephen Yun, pastor at Succasunna UMC and Rev. Enger Muteteke, GNJ resourcing director all shared personal testimonials as CRCC pastors during the workshop.

Rev. William M. Williams III, who is now the district superintendent for Gateway North District, recently recalled his CRCC appointment in 2018 when he said, “I had the opportunity to experience the CRCC training when serving at the First UMC of Westfield.”

“It was such a pleasure to work with a team of laity who were committed to both learning and implementing the learnings. For us, the CRCC training wasn’t a one-day event, but developed into a myriad of small groups and book studies and a deep relational building outside between me and the congregation as well as the congregation with each other.”

Three years later, Williams is implementing what he learned that day as he interacts with people of many cultures and works to mend bridges that may have been weak or broken. When Hurricane Ida plowed through the Northeast, Williams stepped in to connect and help heal.

Back in 2015 when GNJ committed to a 10-year plan to address cultural competency and eradicate racism before passing the 10-year intercultural competency plan two years later, keynote speaker and anti-racist expert, Dr. Robin DiAngelo said, “White people are necessarily limited on their perception of race,” and that sometimes when talking about racism, they may respond from a defensive position because society teaches that racism is “bad.” She said, “We believe that to be complicit with racism and to be a good person is mutually exclusive,” and that the fear of confronting racial injustice “colludes with someone else’s oppression. Your silence is maintaining white solidarity.”

In spite of the barriers and negative feelings of shame and defensiveness that threaten to stall a move forward, DiAngelo encouraged people to build bridges, respond from a place of humility and gratitude. “When we begin to reflect, listen, and engage, we get stronger, recognizing that we didn’t choose it, but we are responsible for it.”

Six years later, and those words still resonate in the minds of many.