(Susan Hunt and Rev. Frederick Outlaw) - On November 29 - December 1, 2012, the Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) convened a Multicultural Conference (MCC) at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. A delegation of some fifteen persons, including Bishop Paul Leeland and the appointive cabinet, represented the Alabama-West Florida Conference at this gathering of United Methodists. As stated in the summary document to the MCC Steering Committee, “…The 2012 Multicultural Conference provided thought-provoking cultural competency training for clergy and laity, enhancing their ability to serve as leaders within diverse churches and changing communities…Through a mixture of plenary sessions, workshops, powerful and inspiring worship services and motivating speakers, the participants were empowered to embrace principles learned at the conference and put them into action in their local church and communities thereby 'Creating a Church for All People.'”
We have formed a small group of those who attended the conference to discern what the way forward is for the Alabama-West Florida Conference as it relates to multicultural understanding and diversity. Three points and/or questions emerged from that reflection:
1. We need fresh eyes to examine our conference’s context and history.
2. How do we bring together persons from various diverse and divergent communities to enter into genuine and authentic dialogue? How do we get them to the table?
3. How do we encourage inclusiveness and diversity within the AWF?
In order to continue as well as begin this conversation within our annual conference, Celeste Eubanks, a layperson from St. John UMC- Mobile, AL, has put into words her reflections from the 2012 SEJ Multicultural Conference. We ask your prayerful and deliberate reading of those reflections, which you can find below.
If you have any other thoughts, ideas, or suggestions on our way forward, we invite you to join us as we continue this dialogue. Please send your comments as well as interests to Susan Hunt, firstname.lastname@example.org , and Frederick G. Outlaw, email@example.com or comment below. We await your responses to the earlier points/questions and the article below written by Celeste Eubanks. Your consideration in this matter will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
What an experience! A great conference held at one of the most beautiful retreat centers in the US. The Southeast Jurisdiction Multicultural Conference was one of the best, most informative conferences I have been to. I left Mobile not knowing what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had. Every aspect of the conference reinforced the common theme of diversity. Besides the obvious diversity among those in attendance, there was also diversity in the music presented at the conference as well as the types of worship services.
Each attendee was assigned to a table which, sticking with the theme of the conference, had a very diverse group of individuals assigned to it. The groups became like little families. At my table (in my “family”) there were “Baby Boomers” and “Gen X’ers”, males and females, and racially there were Caucasians and African-Americans. The groups worshipped together at all of the services, studied together during the Kaleidoscope Bible Studies, and engaged in very interesting discussions during the Table Group Dialogues as each person brought a different perspective to the conversation.
The concept of “Mutual Invitation” was introduced to everyone on day one and was used throughout the remainder of the conference. “Mutual Invitation” is a skill that allows (and encourages) all individuals in a small group to share their thoughts during group discussions. Once a group member has shared their thoughts, they invite another group member to share their thoughts on the same topic. If at that time the individual being invited to speak wishes not to share their thoughts, they simply say “I pass for now” and they will be invited to share at a later time. If they wish not to share anything at all on the subject matter, they say “pass,” and those in the group know that they wish not to speak on the subject at all.
“Mutual Invitation” was a great take-away for many who attended the conference, as it was seen as something that could be implemented in their own churches during small group discussions and/or bible studies. It could also be effectively used during meetings. This tool promotes a positive environment as it makes all group members feel as though they are an active participant.
Since leaving the conference, there are many things that I have been processing. Primarily, I have been thinking of how I can implement all that I learned. How can I best benefit my church, my district, and even my conference with what I have learned? I cannot sit back and do nothing. Rev. Frederick Outlaw said it best during the opening session when he shared the following quote by Edmund Burke (as quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.): “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing.”
I am committed to making a difference. I want to aid in making The United Methodist Church a more diverse body of individuals…a church for all people that truly has “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Likewise, I want to insure that the communication among diverse groups is effective. We must reach all individuals at their need. If that means we need to bring in bi-lingual individuals to help translate for our brothers and sister who may not speak our native language, then that is what we must do. If it means making accommodations for those with a physical, social, or psychological handicap, we must do what we have to do. To be an effectively diverse body, we must make all people feel welcome.