Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Cross Cultural Celebration calls denomination to vision of Rev. 7:9.

"Separated No More" from Revelation 7:9 provided the theme for the 2008 Cross Cultural Consultation and Celebration, held in the Chicago area on April 24-26 (go to to find a photo journal, click on "Photo Journal" for the link). More than 130 Brethren attended from across the US and Puerto Rico. Three congregations each hosted an evening of worship and fellowship--Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, First Church of the Brethren in Chicago, and Naperville Church of the Brethren--and meetings were held at the denomination's General Offices in Elgin.

"Why are we here?" asked Rub*n Deoleo, in the opening statement of the consultation. "First of all we want to give glory to God.... Second, we want to make each of us aware that everybody is important for God, no matter who you are! You are important for the Church of the Brethren. We are here to be a witness so you can tell others about the Cross Cultural Consultation."

Deoleo welcomed the group in his new role as Congregational Life Teams staff for Area 2 with special responsibility for Cross Cultural Ministries. He emphasized that participants would not leave empty handed. The "homework" he gave included a charge to share learnings in cross cultural ministry with churches and communities.

In two powerful sermons, pastor Orlando Redekopp of First Church Chicago, and pastor Thomas Dowdy of Imperial Heights Church of the Brethren in Los Angeles, spoke about "the need to embrace the cross cultural project," in Redekopp's words.

Dowdy, who was a member of the Annual Conference Intercultural Study Committee, noted that "some of us have dreamed of these kinds of gatherings.... Dr. King dreamed of a nation living out its true meaning and its creed." The Intercultural Study Committee dreamed this dream for the Church of the Brethren, he said. He recalled how the study committee found that the work was God's, not their own. As they studied Revelation 7:9, they realized they had to "look through the lens of what God sees," Dowdy said. "God sees us in the future, that's the picture of Revelation 7:9." But it will take hard work to get there, he also warned.

Dowdy outlined several steps for the church to move into the vision of Revelation 7:9: first to understand oneself, second to "loosen up," third to keep a sense of humor, and fourth to not worry about making mistakes. Some are hesitant in cross cultural efforts because they are afraid of saying or doing something wrong, "but you may say something right," he encouraged. "Don't be afraid to step out.... You will not experience the Revelation 7:9 experience unless your mind and hearts will be transformed.... Revelation 7:9 can start today!"

Redekopp emphasized similar themes. "If we do not embrace the cross cultural project we will remain strangers, while the Gospel flourishes elsewhere," he said. Preaching on the experience of Pentecost, he characterized it as "this worldwide movement of languages talking about God's power." He asserted, "No language or culture is so superior that it can claim exclusive access to God.... Our Christian faith has always been on the cultural move. We are not required to go back to Bethlehem or Schwarzenau," he said, referring to the German village where the first Brethren were baptized in 1708. "Bethlehem is no longer in Palestine, it is in the heart of the believer."

Following his sermon, Redekopp received the first award for cross cultural ministry in the Church of the Brethren. "This is the first one, but it is not the last one," said Deoleo as he presented the award along with Duane Grady of the General Board's Congregational Life Team, and Sonja Griffith, pastor of First Central Church of the Brethren in Kansas City. The award honored Redekopp for a groundbreaking role in the first years of the consultation.

Griffith told of how at the first consultation in the late 1990s, participants shared stories of exclusion and hurt in the Church of the Brethren. The stories were so painful that participants were unable to hold Love Feast together in good faith. But at the second consultation in 2000 at Mack Memorial Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Ohio, Redekopp stood up to publicly confess and ask forgiveness on behalf of the caucasian majority in the church. "Orlando said to all his brothers and sisters of color, 'Please forgive us.'" Wuerthner James, an elderly African-American man and a longtime member of Trotwood (Ohio) Church of the Brethren, embraced him sobbing. "That started a spirit of healing," Griffith said, "to ask one another's forgiveness for the wrongs that had been done, the hurts that had been caused. That was a turning point."

A second award was given to Duane Grady, recognizing his work on cross cultural ministries as staff of the Congregational Life Team. The consultation gave him a standing ovation "for keeping this work going for so many years," in the words of the presenter. Grady responded, "All I can say is, look what God can do."

The consultation also featured a presentation on the history of the cross cultural work in the church, and an open discussion about cross cultural ministry with opportunity for participants to make comments and suggestions. Pastor Manuel Gonzalez of Una Nueva Vida En Cristo in Virlina District gave a presentation about serious issues facing the Hispanic community with regard to immigration. MERAN (Multi-Ethnic Reunion Adding Numbers) small group Bible studies were led by facilitators trained in a process of mutual invitation. The consultation also toured the denominational offices and heard about the ministries that are carried out there. At First Church Chicago, the group learned the history of that congregation and received a call to prayer for the rash of shootings of children in Chicago. Evenings at each congregation featured a meal provided by the church and fellowship around the tables.

During moments of worship, the gathering offered laying on of hands for Deoleo, for his work for cross cultural ministry; and for Annual Conference moderator James Beckwith, as he prepared to visit Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).

The event was planned and led by the Cross Cultural Ministries Team Steering Committee: Founa Augustin, Barbara Date, Thomas Dowdy, Carla Gillespie, Sonja Griffith, Robert Jackson, Marisel Olivencia, Victor Olvera, Gilbert Romero, and Dennis Webb. Next year's Cross Cultural Consultation and Celebration will be held on April 23-26, 2009, in Miami, Fla.

Source: 5/07/2008 Newsline

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