(This article originally appeared on the website of the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church).
By The Rev. Sharletta M. Green
This fall I was invited to participate in GCORR’s Vital Conversations Learning Lab with members of the Northeastern Jurisdiction (NEJ). At the event, representatives from three different conferences—Baltimore-Washington, New England, and West Virginia—talked about ways in which we can embrace the growing diversity in our conferences and in our churches. We shared our celebrations and struggles surrounding conversations and actions dealing with race and diversity in the United Methodist Church in the age of multiculturalism/colorblindness.
Appreciative Inquiry was introduced to the group as a way to celebrate what is going well in ministry as well as address the very difficult conversations around diversity and the places where we need to grow. As we introduced ourselves in an ice breaking conversation—where we lived, our conference affiliation, what we brought to the table and what we hoped to gain from this experience—the words people shared were intriguing. I wrote down the words that captured my attention. The ways we described our gifts and desires in the life of the church included words like Listening, Praying, Enthusiasm, Hope, Questioning, Music, Multiculturalism, Kingdom-living, Communication, Optimism, Stubbornness, Teaching, Experience, Change, Otherness. Other words included were Black, White, African, African American, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Korean, New York, New England, West Virginia, Baltimore-Washington, D.C., City, Rural. And there were more words, powerful words and phrases, such as Movement out of comfort zone, Creating, Beloved community, Harmony, Disharmony, Acceptance, Language, Spirit of God moves, Erases barriers.
What each person brings to a conversation via their gifts, social location, experience and unique handprint of God in their lives always makes for an amazing representation of God in the work we do. The time of intense sharing and worship revealed the gifts of many that are often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the work even in the church.
I wanted to capture these words—and the work that I believe will be important to the future of The United Methodist Church—and include them in our worship and devotion. The following prayer reflects our uniqueness as part of the Body of Christ as well as our hopes and dreams for a future that truly reflects the love of God in the tapestry God created in the human community.
God of all creation, you gather us as your children in all of our diversity; with our many gifts, our struggles, our brokenness, the best and worse we have to offer. And with your Holy Spirit you touch that which is whole, yet scarred by our human-ness.
As we listen, pray, hope, question, worship- You speak! We who are enthusiastic, multicultural, musical, teachers, members of the beloved community- Come ready to move out of our comfort zones, learn new language that builds up and does not tear down; to erase barriers, to experience a Holy change, to embrace optimism in our lives and work as ministers of the Gospel.
Our old wine skins are torn, leaking and our wine has lost its taste. Healing, restoring, loving, life-giving God: give us the grace to accept the new wine skins sewn by your hand as the people called United Methodists. So that, as we communicate your love story for us we may live as your Divine Kingdom on earth as we celebrate the new wine and new wine skins provided by our intentional work; building trust, living, exploring as: Hispanic, Asians, Koreans, Africans, African Americans, Native Americans, Biracial, Puerto Rican, Whites, that all may live in harmony as the beautiful tapestry of the birthed dream of God.
The Rev. Sharletta M. Green, M.A., M.Div, is a clergy member of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.