Strength through Diversity


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By Rick Wolcott*

“We are here this weekend to talk about breaking down barriers,” said the Rev. Delaine McGhee during opening worship of the North Central Jurisdiction Commission on Religion and Race Annual Learning Event.  “People are thirsty.  People want to drink from the well.  It is up to us to create the path.”

Dozens of people from across the jurisdiction descended on The Embassy Suites in Independence, OH., for three days of witnessing, worship, and workshops built around the theme Living into the Vision: Beyond our Comfort Zones.

During the keynote address on Friday, East Ohio Conference Bishop John Hopkins used the racial dot map to show the diverse makeup of conference office cities across the jurisdiction.  “We need to see diversity as a strength in carrying out our mission – and not an end in itself,” Hopkins said.  “God needs all of us working together!”

Learning event participants worked not only on behalf of the present day church but also cast an eye on the future.  The confirmation class from University Circle UMC (North Coast District) served communion with Bishop Julius Trimble of the Iowa Conference and five youth and young adults took part in a panel discussion moderated by the Rev. David Whitt of Garfield Heights UMC (North Coast District).

Panel participants cited family, relevance, and curiosity as the reasons for initially coming to church.  It is also what continues to keep them active in church life today.  Each agreed that integrity – living out daily the words that they speak – is vital to making disciples for Jesus Christ.

Those same thoughts were shared by Mary Jayne Brown, a member of Warren First UMC (Mahoning Valley District) during her Saturday morning devotion.  “Sunday fills us up,” Brown said.  “It’s what we do the rest of the week that speaks to the Jonahs and the Ninevites around us.”

Saturday evening the learning event spoke to all the guests of the hotel.  Diversity was celebrated in the hotel lobby with music and dance as part of the International/Cultural Festival.  It preceded dinner and an address from Bishop Linda Lee, bishop-in-residence and student life pastoral care team member at Garrett Theological Seminary.

Music played an important role during the weekend.  It centered participants for worship with lyrics that reinforced the message of working together to break down barriers, like these from the refrain of the 1950 Marty Haugen song “Bring Forth the Kingdom:”

  Bring forth the kingdom of mercy,
bring forth the kingdom of peace;
bring forth the kingdom of justice,
bring forth the city of God!

Plenary sessions were led by the Rev. Deborah Thompson, chair of the North Central Jurisdiction on Religion and Race, and the Rev. Dr. Grace Cajiuat and the Rev. Giovanni Arroyo, of the General Commission on Religion and Race.  Workshops were led by Dr. Gloria Brown, Dr. Yvonne Zimmerman, Jack Lyons, and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Royappa.

Planning continues for the 2014 North Central Jurisdiction Annual Learning Event.

*Rick Wolcott is director of communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.