By Rev. Deb Stehlin
One of my colleagues is the Rev. Patricia Davenport. We got to know one another because she has served with me on the “new starts team” for the ELCA. She was recently installed as bishop in Philadelphia. I got to watch the worship service via live stream. Oh, what a celebration it was! Because she is the first African-American woman to be elected bishop in our denomination, there was good reason to dance and clap and let the praises rise.
It took 30 years for this to happen.
The preacher, the Rev. Dr. Wyvetta Bullock, spoke that hard truth, even as she thanked God for this moment. She also spoke the truth about our church, and our need to (in my words) be released from our bondage to whiteness. Then, she looked directly at Rev. Davenport and declared, “Bishop, this is not your work.”
In those words, I heard a call.
It’s my work.
“The Rev. Dr. Bullock said that leadership is ‘what you bring to any situation that needs what you have.’”
In her sermon, the Rev. Dr. Bullock said that leadership is “what you bring to any situation that needs what you have.” This situation of our church not reflecting the beautiful racial and ethnic diversity of our surroundings needs me to use my leadership to create right relationships. Another of my colleagues calls this “love work.” Not the sentimental kind of love, but the kind of love that is an action that seeks wellbeing.
DESCRIBING THIS AS LOVE WORK helps me to imagine each of our congregation leaders asking, “What kind of love work needs to happen here? What steps can our church take to create right relationships?”
I am significantly grateful for all the others in this synod who also feel called to this love work. Fifty congregations have racial justice liaisons who help their congregations learn new ways of being in our multi-racial, multicultural world. Our Unite Table helps people grow in their cultural competency and helps to hold the vision. Several leaders attended training in Chicago and came back with new energy. We hope to add a racial justice organizer to our staff very soon. A majority of our new mission starts are reaching new people in new ways and in new places. There are a growing number of people of color attending seminary. And a growing group of people of color are gathering regularly to build relationships and affect change.
This love work is good work.