From the earliest days of Methodism, groups have provided the context for faith formation. For much of our history, those groups have met in person. North Cross Director of Adult Ministry, Stephanie Mutert, expected to continue in that vein when she joined the staff in late 2019. The emergence of COVID-19 meant those plans had to change. Against the backdrop of hyper-partisan politics, decades-old racial tensions and a worldwide pandemic, what could adult discipleship look like?
“North Cross has a strong adult Sunday school. When the pandemic hit, we wondered how to resources those groups and help those unconnected to them find community when everything and everyone was being pushed apart,” recalls Rev. Shawn Franssens, North Cross lead pastor. “I knew Stephanie was passionate about groups and had experience meeting online. I thought if anyone could help us figure out online groups, it was her.”
Leveraging years working with groups domestically and internationally, Mutert knew technology could provide safe spaces for groups to form and flourish. Taking advantage of United Methodist Communications’ discounted access to the Zoom platform, Mutert launched several online groups, perhaps the most challenging being Race+Faith.
“As racial tensions rose in 2020, I could not deny the calling to hold space for those that acknowledged racism is a sin, and we’re committing to the work necessary in understanding the impacts of racism and hearing the experiences of others in the United States,” Mutert shares.
“We don’t know what we don’t know, and we cannot be about Kingdom equality without also having a posture of listening and learning.”
Believing in and loving your neighbor requires getting to know your neighbor. Mutertert has worked to help the congregation explore privilege, bias and barriers to community. It is work she recognizes needs safe spaces to explore sensitive topics.
From her perspective, “Transformation in groups is sacred space that is incredibly vulnerable. When the Holy Spirit is shifting your perspectives and helping you see in new ways, it is easy to feel others will judge or debate you, especially in our chaotic and divisive culture right now. From the beginning, our group made it a priority that safe space was necessary to support each other in growing to be more and more like Jesus.”
Under Mutert’s leadership, North Cross is currently working with area churches and groups to expand the conversation. Race+Faith’s next project in January 2022 facilitated a screening via Zoom of the documentary Traces of the Trade. The film follows a New England family’s quest to uncover their connection to slavery in North America and its ongoing impact on society.
For information on facilitating online groups or to participate in this online experience, those interested can contact Stephanie Mutert via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the documentary can be found at tracesofthetrade.org.