August 01, 2008

Gathering Gifts

July 19, 2008
by Debra Dean Murphy
It’s been more than a week since the Gathering ended and my head is still swimming and my heart is still full. There is always so much to take in when we meet each summer for conversation, worship, learning, and fellowship.

I traveled to Chicago this year with three good friends from my church—new endorsers of EP and first-time Gathering attendees. These friends—Judy, Chris, and Greg—were overwhelmed by all they encountered (in the best possible sense of that word) and we continue to talk about what we experienced, hoping that our own transformed thinking about matters of race and racism in the body of Christ might come to bear good fruit in the ecclesial context in which we find ourselves.

One of the things I like about the format of the Summer Gathering is that we always have persons (often “outsiders” to EP who become fast friends) who put “flesh and bone”—real practical import—to the ideas and insights we hear in the formal plenary/lecture sessions (which were themselves, this year, extraordinary). It was a gift to listen to the stories of New Life/Nueva Vida Mennonite Church (Norristown, PA) and Rock of Salvation Church in Chicago. Leadership at New Life/Nueva is shared equally among three pastors who minister to this congregation made up of Anglos, Hispanics, and African-Americans. Such an arrangement “is not effective,” said one of them, Brother Ertell, only half-joking. But it is a sign of the church’s commitment to the hard work of racial reconciliation in the body of Christ.

I was struck by how matter-of-fact the approach to racial reconciliation is in both of these churches: no anxious hand-wringing, no endless “task-forcing” of the issues. Instead, they conveyed, with humor and humility, a clear-eyed honesty about the challenges facing multi-ethnic congregations and a sense that this way of being/doing church is not an option but an obligation—yet one undertaken with joy and a sense of hope about what God is up to in their midst.

Three days of intense focus on a difficult topic can leave one, as I said above, more than a little overwhelmed. We can begin to think that the problem of racism in the body of Christ is an intractable one. We can slip into thinking that we can do nothing or that we have to do everything. God save us from such despair on the one hand and such arrogance on the other. May we rest in the truth (but not rest on our laurels) that the work of reconciliation has already been accomplished. It is our task and our joy to live into the fullness of that truth and to bear witness to it. I thank all of my EP sisters and brothers—old friends and new friends alike—for the gift of that reminder last week.

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