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A personal account of the 2014 National Gathering
My name is Helen Brooks. I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I attended the 2014 National Gathering and I’ve been thinking about the event ever since.
I am a member of College Hill Presbyterian Church under the leadership of Pastor Drew Smith, a very gifted and devout man of God, who walks in impartiality and justice.
Although my pastor could be viewed as a white, confident, and advantaged man in society, I personally know him to be an empathetic and compassionate man of God, working diligently as it refers to race relations in our church and community. Pastor Drew participates in prayer walks, community events, and is even known to play a fair game of basketball.
Drew is a driving force behind the Ministerium, a community gathering of all pastors in our neighborhood churches. It’s a time where both black and white ministers fellowship and encourage one another and where information and support are accessed.
When Pastor Drew invited me to Dallas, my first response was awe-inspiring. I imagined mingling with other brothers and sisters in Christ, socializing and hanging out with different laypersons from 149 other churches, meeting new people, Facebook friend requests, and exchanging email addresses with the hope of future networking.
Prior to coming the first day, I guess my expectation was full of fantasy and fluff. Reality was temporarily pushed behind and replaced with inflated hope. After all, this was a gathering of Christians standing strong together for a significant cause essential to our faith and hope in Jesus as our Savior.
Once we arrived at the hotel, I was pumped and excited to attend the seminars, participate in workshops, and join in on praise at the evening worship services. As I entered the lobby, I was greeted by a few staff members who were nice, and I must admit, some brown like me. They wore friendly smiles and greeted me with genuine regard. But as I waited with my other friends, who happened to be white, more and more white people started pouring in. Every now and then I saw a person smile and look my way, but not many.
I reasoned that some, perhaps like myself, were haggard by the long flights or the hot and humid heat of Dallas. I looked at their National Gathering badges first, working my way up to see a pleasant face, but all I saw were people looking past me and not making eye contact.
Was I invisible?
I thought I would investigate more, so I went up the escalator to check out the vendors and mingle with people. That’s when I started sensing there was something missing. I could not find anyone to really identify with; there were books, authors, and mission tables by all white authors, all white theologians, all white philosophers, and all white vendors selling the merchandise.
There was not one book on the table that related to me, or which I felt could advance the mission of all people in multicultural worship together. It was very discouraging.
I passed through the crowd, unnoticed, as if I were a ghost, spirit, or apparatus. Do I, or people who look like me, matter?
Personal highlights from the 2014 National Gathering
- Corey Widmer’s Missionary in Your Hometown. This seminar should be the blueprint of our organization. Scriptures tell us charity begins at home and then it’ spread abroad. The love of God should be the movement that alleviates consumerism and welcomes all communities.
- Alan Hirsch’s analogy of the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. He was correct; it does take those who are in for a great adventure, brave, courageous and yes, perhaps mischievous to bring forth more kingdom principles. There is no middle ground in God’s Kingdom; we are either advancing the kingdom for all people, or we are not.
- I believe it was Bryan Dunagan of Highland Park Presbyterian Church who made me rejoice in my heart, by preaching “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30 -37). At that moment, I had someone to identify with. The Samaritan in the story is a marginalized, invisible person, not first choice, in a privileged society, used by God to help heal a man of God.
How can we move forward?
What I would like to suggest is a more multicultural platform of God’s people leading, praying, teaching, and worshipping together. As we transition from consumerism, we should also be willing to be transformed into a more blended community of believers. We can no longer be comfortable serving across towns and soup kitchens. God is calling us to become a movement in urban settings as well as rural. Our emphasis on intentionality and being relational is a start, but we can’t stay there either.
Reclaiming a sense of covenanted community should be a hopeful, inviting movement of God, open to all of His people no matter their color or ethnicity.
I am so thankful to God for allowing me the honor of attending the 2014 National Gathering. I made a friend there, who just happened to sit down at our dinner table one evening. I looked into her eyes and somehow I remembered a scripture my Grandmother told me as a child, “Be careful how you treat strangers, you may be entertaining angels,” (Hebrews 13:2).
A word from ECO
Members of ECO are not just part of a denomination, but engaged in a covenant community. ECO is always grateful to hear from its many members about their experiences at events such as our Gatherings. It is at these events where we have this wonderful opportunity to fellowship, grow, and learn from one another and especially from God.
We so appreciate Helen Brook’s testimony, insight, and gracious response to this year’s gathering. Her reflections are especially helpful as ECO is currently in the early stages of shaping and planning our next gathering set for January of 2016. Let us move forward together, continuing to grow in grace and truth.