Mission Council Moves Culture Work Forward
At the Missouri Conference Mission Council meeting on September 21, council members heard the full report of the Episcopal Task Force on Race and Culture. Presented by task force chairperson and retired Elder Rev. Cody Collier, the council spent much of the meeting thinking through the task force’s work, recommendations, and ways that the council can hold the Conference and Episcopal Office accountable to moving the work forward.
“We’ve finalized our purpose for why we are intentionally engaging in the work on race and culture in the Missouri Annual Conference,” Bishop Bob Farr said. “It’s important that we all know the reason why we are working on cultural competency and addressing diversity within our Conference and our local churches. Diversity within the Church helps us become a better reflection of God’s vision for the Church.” Missouri’s race and culture purpose statement reads:
To be a brave, empowering place for people from all diverse cultures and generations so that we can become a Church for all God’s people. We seek to do this by equipping Conference leaders and local churches for multicultural leadership, cross-cultural connection and healing justice, Conference-wide.
“Having more diversity helps our local churches be more relevant and reflective of our current mission field and the mission field of the future,” Farr said.
The Mission Council took up two direct recommendations of the task force that they could affect: integrating the word “diversity” into the Expectations We Have of Each Other and the inclusion of “Missional Justice” into the Core Practices the Missouri Conference Must Get Right.
“Since diversity is clearly part of God’s grand design, it is important that we, as members of the Mission Council and of the body of Christ, include diversity as an expectation we have for one another in all that we are and all that we do,” said Tony Bavuso, Mission Council member and lay member at Liberty UMC.
The Mission Council has fiduciary and strategic responsibilities for Conference staff. They help set goals and provide oversight. Conference and district staff are responsible for the day-to-day management of the Conference. Ultimately, staff will implement work related to the Conference’s desire to be more intentionally diverse.
“The ongoing work of race and culture that the Missouri Conference is pursuing provides me with a sense of hope that someone is finally listening and willing to invest in tackling the hard issue before us as God’s valued children in Black and Brown bodies,” said Yvette Richards, St. James UMC (Kansas City) lay member and Mission Council member. “As a Black lay female, it is refreshing to see your Conference leadership join in the struggle of injustice. I appreciate our Bishop’s willingness to stand with us against racism on all forms.”
District Superintendents and Conference directors and their teams, alongside the Mission Council, will be reviewing the task force’s recommendations and making decisions regarding prioritization and feasibility in alignment with the Conference vision. That work will be completed by December 15 with an anticipated release of a final report delivered to the Conference in January 2022.
Bishop Farr has asked Rev. David Gilmore, Heartland District Superintendent, to chair the Diversity and Reconciliation Team recommended by the task force for the remainder of the quadrennium. This team, beginning its work in January, will assist Conference staff and leaders in implementing the report’s major measures designed to work toward dismantling racism within the Conference and its local churches. Anticipated work on race and culture includes resources for local churches to engage in further conversation and education.
“I am excited to potentially have practical tools and resources, common language and real support for local churches, in order to effect change in our congregations and communities,” said Rev. Meagan O’Brien, Mission Council member and pastor of Shiloh UMC.
Conference staff and teams are already engaged in race and culture efforts stemming from conversations initiated through the task force’s work. For example, the Office of Connectional Ministries is streamlining the Conference leadership pool portal to simplify the process for nominating clergy and laity for Conference leadership positions. The desire is to make the nomination process more accessible, especially for laity.
The Office of Finance and Administrative Ministries is exploring the possibilities of a strategic purchasing plan that would give minority-owned contractors better access to Conference-related businesses. The Board of Ordained Ministry has begun conversations about their role in the larger Conference work of awareness and racism and made initial plans to improve their processes as it relates to bias during their August meeting. Center for Congregational Excellence has been working for the better part of two years to launch a new Hispanic congregation in the Independence/Kansas City area. Freddy Miraglia, along with his wife and three kids, will begin work in December. And, Bishop Farr has embarked on a Conference-wide listening tour of 24 historic Black churches or predominantly Black congregations in Missouri throughout the 2021-2022 appointive year.
“This listening tour is an opportunity for me to learn about the experiences and ministry of some of our African-American sisters and brothers,” Farr said. “As a White person, I only know what I know. Building relationships with our Black clergy and laity helps me learn about them and, hopefully, will make me a better spiritual leader for them.”