By the Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber
The Innovation and Vitality team I work with is commissioned to “New People, New Places, New Leadership.” We have defined “New People” and “New Leadership” through community, neighborhoods, young leaders, and leaders of color. It hit me the other day that we really have not defined what “New Places” looks like.
- Where do they meet?
- What does inclusion look like?
- What does worship include?
What are the new spaces for Methodism in the Greater Northwest Area?
Almost all of us in the Greater Northwest Area (GNW UMC) agree that change has come upon us through change in culture, denominational decisions, and local identity exploration. There is a new expression of Methodism that is coming, has been coming, is here, and is also on its way.
This new expression of Methodism seems to begin with a wholly different posture towards marginalized communities. Methodism was birthed and has been sustained through a missions model of ministry. This model has placed ourselves at the center while seeing difference as “other” in need of something we have. The missions model of ministry has been willing to “help” others even if we do not force our religion upon them.
But sometimes “helping” just unearths the privilege and supremacy paradigms that we may not realize are there. Consider this. We use the word “helping” differently when thinking about and applying the idea to a peer or neighbor versus someone who is poor or “other.” Ingrained patriarchy within our faith contexts sees inferiority in others who experience need.
Jesus played an entirely different song. Jesus lifted up the voices of the margins to be at the center. He affirmed the humanity of everyone. A new expression of Methodism must invite the voices from marginalized communities to be at every money- and decision-making table while demanding of those at the power seats allow a broader range of leadership voice. This moves our ministry model from “mission” closer to liberation.
This can only happen through relational equity. The “mission” or colonial style of ministry sees poor people, women, those who identify as queer, and people of color as those who need “help” or “saving.” If these marginalized people are invited to the table at all, it is in a transactional relationship. For example, people of color may be given access to leadership or funding, but it is often in exchange for access to their communities, the precious stories represented in the community, or an opportunity to “save” or “help” them.
This relational inequity allows the powerful to feel good about themselves while reminding the marginalized who is really still in charge.
Therefore, a new expression of Methodism must have a deeper and wider understanding of inclusion. The GNW UMC should be commended for its continued stance in support of LGBTQ+ clergy and lay leaders. However, it is time for an equally robust stance on white supremacy and the engagement of people of color. This will only come from the realization that similar forces are at work to oppress women, people who identify as queer, and people of color within the system.
A deeper level of inclusion needs to have tangible outcomes in how dollars are allocated, who sits on boards, who is empowered into new leadership, and who is making the formal decisions about how the GNW UMC moves following the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference.
This plays out at local levels as well. For instance, the UMC body of laity and clergy are 94% white. This number is astounding. This level of white supremacy takes intentionality to both create and maintain. Our worship is a primary place where that white supremacy is maintained. Most white communities are unaware that their practices, ideas, and norms are culturally white. The norms of organization, worship, and administration in our churches are culturally white. We must de-culturize our worship from whiteness. We must be intentional about a non-monocultural worship expression.
How do we go about this? It takes new leadership from nonwhite communities and radical community engagement in the neighborhoods and communities of our church. It does make one wonder… how is change at this level possible with guaranteed appointments?
Sociologically, it will be impossible to change with a system that continues to advance and perpetuate the status quo. Not only will Guaranteed Appointments continue to place non-diverse leaders throughout our region, it is also expensive. Perhaps a revamped guaranteed appointment system could begin to make promises to ministers based upon the goals and directions that we know the denomination needs.
A new expression of Methodism for the Greater Northwest Area will need to make some guarantees to those talented leaders from marginalized spaces that can take our denomination where it needs to go. This should be celebrated. For too long, monocultural expressions have created the decline that we have seen. An empowered, diverse, and new expression of Methodism may see
Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber serves as Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church for the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church. This post originally appeared on his blog on the Voices Project website where you can also find his full bio.