by Katie Lineberger
We were sitting on the porch of the Rutba House, an intentional Christian community in Durham, NC founded by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Jonathan said to us, “You are about the most diverse group of United Methodist clergy I’ve ever seen.” That fact alone has been the greatest gift of our peer-learning group, “Becoming Church.” The seven of us came together as an intentionally diverse group coming from different genders, ages, and ethnicities. We came together to learn from each other and other church leaders on how we can more faithfully lead churches to reflect a more diverse, global context. In our diversity we had a shared awareness of the gap between what is true now in the world and in our own lives and what we know God desires. To intentionally come together for this purpose of wrestling with, learning about, and experiencing areas of brokenness within and around us, and how we can participate with God in its healing was transformative.
The first point of learning came from each other. At the beginning of our first retreat, most of us were strangers, but by the end of the week, the walls we may have unintentionally had up started to come down. We talked openly and honestly about our own experiences of prejudices, exclusion, and inclusion, and how those experiences shaped our worldview. While meeting with us at Duke Divinity, Christena Cleveland said to us, “Each cultural group has a secret about God that isn’t known outside the relationship.” I think that our peer group experienced that truth in each other over the course of these past nine months.
Our time together was based around five retreats of varying lengths, each with a different focus. We started at Duke Divinity for a week of Duke Study Leave to ground ourselves theologically and begin to build group trust. We also had retreats in Asheville, Greensboro, and Washington D.C. At each retreat we either experienced or heard about places where the Kingdom is breaking in. We got to talk to leaders who are leading these Kingdom happenings and learn from them. We witnessed beautiful expressions of hospitality to the stranger and disadvantaged. We learned from leaders active in reconciliation and facilitating hard conversations, and how to engage in advocacy for the marginalized. We saw ways of doing church that are imaginative and missionally focused.
This experience was a joint effort of the Justice and Reconciliation, Leadership Development, and Mission Engagement Teams. It was a fitting collaboration, for our learning encompassed the work of all three teams. Our eyes were opened to new ways of seeing the world and church; our leadership enhanced by learning from other leaders; and our hearts uplifted and inspired by the mission of God breaking out all over the place in WNCC and the UMC as a whole. The past nine months have been a bit like seeing the “best of” in terms of ministry and leadership, but the exciting part is that I know we haven’t even scratched the surface of what is happening and what is possible for the church and church leaders. If this sounds like something you might be interested in experiencing, be on the lookout for more to come. The journey of “Becoming Church” isn’t over yet…
The Rev. Katie Lineberger is pastor of Clarksbury UMC in Harmony and the chairperson of the WNCC Mission Engagement Team.