Response: May 2017 Issue

Responsively Yours: It’s Complicated

Responsively Yours: It’s Complicated

Participating in a community requires togetherness, connection and relationship. It also requires that the community includes space for different needs, interests and cultures and for spaces of comfort. We often speak of this as “unity without uniformity.” One challenge about unity without uniformity is that what seems essential to unity for me may look like enforcement of uniformity to you.

We may be surprised when folks who share common faith, commitments and passions approach things differently than we do. Perhaps you’ve had this experience, when worship meaningful for you leaves others yearning for something different, or when someone interprets a Bible passage in a way that downplays women in the text. Experiences of difference in our core community can lead to misunderstanding, concern and distancing—especially if we do not find ways to learn more.

Another challenge is that sometimes we need to gather in ways and with people whose cultures, experiences, needs and challenges are like our own. Because of our shameful history of racial segregation, versions of which continue today, and perhaps because of being accustomed to setting the norms of interaction, majority culture (white) people are often uncomfortable with spaces based on race and ethnicity.

Of course, we want to learn from our past and not repeat practices of racism and bigotry. But we must learn the right things. This means being willing to sit with some discomfort and hear persons who want to worship in their first language and who long for of familiar worship patterns. It means making continued efforts to frame supportive, creative fellowship in ways that allow me to be myself and in places in which I can grow, broaden my experience, expand my repertoire of music and language that moves me to love and follow Jesus and find companions on the journey who reflect more than my own race, first language, generation and socioeconomic class—and allowing others the space to do the same.

As we study the missionary conferences, we may find an uncomfortable degree of separation, or we may find special communities whose cultures were and are honored and that need different approaches to being Church. Likely you will see some of each. As we look at these past and present designs, we should ask: What can we learn from these organizing and equipping plans that would help us today? Are there hints for how we might respect and honor one another’s needs and organizing capacities in our efforts to follow Jesus and journey together along the path toward abundant life?

Building a community of faith where I am honored and my traditions are reflected that stretches me and urges me toward becoming more perfect in love is complicated. It is even more complicated now with so many ways to isolate ourselves and listen only to people with whom we agree. But building this kind of community is our task and our privilege. Thanks be to God that God goes before us. May we have strength, wisdom and humility to follow.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 5/2/2017 12:00:00 AM