The mission of the Walk Justly Conference is to connect, resource, educate and empower individuals towards effective, culturally informed, context-specific ministries. Attendees learned how to expand their influence and be more equipped to make their communities, neighborhoods, churches, and workplaces more open and supportive of all people.
Over the last decade, the need for serious and ongoing conversations around social justice has grown as we think about names such as Trevon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd and Briana Taylor. In addition, the need for ministries of social justice has sprung up in congregations of all denominations in response to our calling as Christians to love our neighbors.
Nick Reinhardt, Manchester UMC’s social justice coordinator and Walk Justly Conference visionary, explained that “The Walk Justly Conference seeks to give churches and individuals the resources they need to create justice within their communities. We want to help churches find old practices or programs that aren’t working anymore and breathe new life into our commitment towards our neighbor”.
The conference kicked off Friday night with an opening meal and culminated in an evening of praise and worship with a powerful message from Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor at St. James United Methodist in Kansas City. Cleaver’s sermon set the tone for the entire conference by reminding participants that all people are loved by God – not just those who look, think and talk like us.
On Saturday morning, following breakfast and a prayer service, participants spread out across the facility to attend a series of workshops. In addition to preaching the opening worship, Cleaver also facilitated a workshop that drew upon his personal experiences of racism as a young child through to his adult years. Experiences like cross burnings in his front yard and police intimidation tactics moved him to advocate for the intersection between faith and activism and the role of the institutional church in this space.
Another featured workshop was led by Dr. Joshua Bartholomew, adjunct professor of religious and theological studies at Iliff School of Theology and research project coordinator for Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience. His experience as a community organizer and as the author of several papers on economic justice, youth empowerment, and violence prevention in communities helped his workshop participants to get a deeper understanding of how this can all intersect in a call to love thy neighbor.
The Justice Buffet was a thought-provoking workshop led by Rev. Dr. Dietra Wise Baker, a certified anti-racism trainer and trainer of faith-based community organizing in the Gamaliel Network. She provided her participants with the tools they might need to understand movement work and prepare for the challenges they might be presented with.
Manchester UMC’s lead pastor, Rev. Andy Bryan, who has fostered over 20 children and has been elected as a lead delegate to the 2020 General Conference, led a workshop that examined the different spectrums presented when preaching in a polarized congregation and the challenges that present.
Other workshops were led by facilitators Rev. Dr. Willis Johnson, Rev. Stephanie Leonard, Rev. David Bennett, Rev. Winter Hamilton, Rev. Brad Bryan, Rev. Karen Shearer, Mari Ann Moyers and Nick Reinhardt. These clinics focused on topics ranging from microlending to community outreach in rural communities to starting a social justice ministry.
With the plethora of information presented and the fellowship that this conference created, participants left with a renewed sense of purpose, goals and challenges to take back to their congregations with a fervor bound to create a call to action. It was a gathering of people dedicated to investing in a future that truly reflected Micah 6:8.
The conference was not just about a gathering of like-minded people. It started a movement that will continue to teach us that even though social justice is not a new concept, it’s in constant motion. There will always be a need to stand up and educate not just oneself but an entire community on the injustices that, until we dig deeper, are not just on the surface. New issues will arise daily as we start to chip away at the tip of the iceberg and realize so much more is going on underneath the surface.
The Walk Justly Conference will continue annually to provide tools for its participants to lead the way for change in their communities. In addition, it will empower those who seek to be educated and fellowship in His house through His people and His will. We hope to continue this tradition next year at the Walk Justly Conference in 2022.
This year’s Walk Justly Conference was coordinated by Manchester UMC in collaboration with the Missouri Annual Conference, the Missouri United Methodist Foundation and others from the Methodist connection.