On Saturday, May 15th I met with the black clergy of the Florida Conference at Stewart Memorial Church in Daytona Beach. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and a delicious fried fish dinner.
This was an opportunity for the clergy to discuss with me issues of concern about our life as a conference.
Some of the concerns included the following. We should have a plan to hire more persons of color on the conference staff as positions become available (an issue cited in the 2004 evaluation of our conference by the General Commission on Religion and Race). We should be more intentional in including persons of color in gatherings and in leadership in our conference. We should address (what I identify as) the often unconscious reality of "white privilege" which affects our relationships and approaches to many matters. Likewise, we should learn more about cultural differences between us; for example, we who are superintendents may not understand the role of African-American pastors as "prophetc leaders" in our oversight of their performance. We should make sure that we encourage more students to enroll at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta. We who are superintendents should provide better preparation for cross-cultural appointments. We should begin planning a new church start in an African-American community. There were other ideas and feelings expressed, but these were some of the major points, which should concern us all.
At the 2010 annual conference we shall be asked to approve a group to develop and implement a plan of inclusiveness for our conference. This would give us an institutional means for addressing the kinds of concerns mentioned above.
One of the wonderful characteristics of our conference is its diversity. While diversity is wonderful, it requires more of us than would otherwise be the case. Particularly, it requires of those of us in the white majority a much greater awareness of our own cultural and racial blinders in order for us to be one church of Jesus Christ of diverse peoples. In addressing how to achieve a more fruitful sharing in community, we have an opportunity to grow in Christian character and to present a stronger witness to the world of the love of Jesus Christ which breaks down dividing walls and build bridges among peoples.