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Fourth Street Leadership Summit Addresses Inclusive Kingdom Building
Story by Taashi Rowe
Panelists Sharon Pruitt, Alvin Kibble and Nathan Krause address inclusive kingdom-building.
For over a period of three days, the church at the corner of Fourth and Q streets in Washington, D.C., served as more than a house of worship, it was the home of the 2012 Strategic Leadership Summit. In addition to those who packed the church’s tiny sanctuary, attendees and participants also joined in via live stream from as far away as California and England. Multiple speakers addressed the theme “In the Spirit of Tomorrow: Engaging Race, Ethnicity, Sexuality and Its Impact on Relevant Kingdom Building” and focused on building a more inclusive church.
“The painful reality is that as a Christian community, we are engaged with more God talk than God walk,” said Andrew Harewood, pastor of Fourth-Street Friendship church explaining the reason behind the theme. “In fact I would dare say if we’re not careful our [Seventh-day] Adventism will cause us to lose our place in heaven. Our church is dying. We are not dealing with relevant issues and to a large degree most of our leaders are leading through the rear view mirror. I am sick and tired of seeing other organizations addressing relevant issues when we are more concerned about maintaining our comfort level than in fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to make disciples.”
Those may sound like fighting words, but several church and community leaders agreed with Harwood. In his Sabbath morning sermon, Barry Black, U.S. Senate chaplain, laid out five principles for making disciples: break down the barriers of prejudice, take the initiative, meet needs, help people clearly see who they actually are and empower people to break down barriers.
Panelists then went on to tackle the rarely addressed issues of churches divided by race and people who feel unwelcomed in church because of their sexuality. On Sabbath afternoon, people could Skype, tweet, Facebook or text their questions to the multiple panelists. One of those panels discussed the topic “How Tolerant Are we of Differences?” Alvin Kibble, a North American Division vice president, responded, “We must learn to appreciate differences. There is something about the new that is challenging and frightening to some people.”
Nathan Krause, pastor of Potomac Conference’s Olney (Md.) church, said, “We really need to deal with issues that divide us or they will continue to divide us. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in. If you foster the love of Christ then a judgmental spirit would not be there.”
Sharon Pruitt, a newly baptized Fourth Street member, said inclusiveness of leadership should be paramount in the church. “I just hope we can get to a place when we stop identifying people by race,” she said.
Another panel discussed the generational and cultural shift. “Our greatest resource is young people,” said Henry Fordham, newly elected Allegheny East Conference president. “They are not the church of tomorrow, they are the neglected church of today. We need to stop being hypocritical and be real to young people. Love breaks down barriers.” He also promised to form a task force of young people where they will share their ideas of where they want to see their church go. “I hope we will have the courage to listen,” he said.
“One of the challenges for those in leadership is giving up their power,” observed Brian Bakee, vice president for the Mustard Seed Foundation, a community organization. “I think this is what is hindering multiculturalism in the church. If a church tells me they are multicultural, I ask to see a photo of the leadership team.”
When the subject of sexuality came up, Phyllis Edmonds, assistant solicitor at the Baltimore City Law Department, said, “ I want the church to look at all sexual sins. We tend to focus on homosexuality, but it does less damage to the family than adultery. We need to be consistent when we talk about all sexual sins.”
Though the discussions were not always eloquently handled and no one claimed to have all the answers, Sylvia Danley-Smith, a member of Capitol Hill church, said, “I was blessed. We are all part of the human race and we really need to examine how we treat each other. We are one church and there is no need for distinctions.”
Dwain Esmond, a vice president at the Review and Herald Publishing Association in Hagerstown, Md., said, “ I liked that we got to learn about practical tools for reaching and into the community. Enough with the talking.”
At the end of the program, Harewood encouraged all attendees to take the ideas learned over the three days and put them into action.
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