The week of January 18, 2016, the NTS Center for Pastoral Leadership (CPL) hosted a series of service projects, worship services, panel discussions and dialogues in order to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to address the important issues of race, privilege, and our responsibility as the church. Click here to view a schedule of the week’s events. NTS is grateful to Multicultural Ministries for the financial grant that made MLK Week possible.
On Monday, a group of staff and students worked and served at a local non-profit in the Kansas City area. Monday night, the NTS community joined the city-wide celebration honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. at Metropolitan Baptist Church.
Rev. Dr. Wallace Hartsfield, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Pastor at KC Metropolitan Baptist Church, preached in a special chapel service on Tuesday at NTS to honor Dr. King. Hartsfield’s message was centered around the themes: “Our greatest attribute is our diversity; our greatest advantage is our unity; our greatest attainment is our humanity.” A diverse group of pastors from across the metro area also participated in the service, sharing Scriptures and prayers of lament, healing, and hope.
“In addition to services honoring Dr. King,” shared Dana Preusch, Director of the NTS CPL, “we also wanted this week to be a time when we could create space for honest dialogue about race and social justice. Our panel on Wednesday led us into a very candid conversation about issues of racism and privilege and helped us to begin to think about how we as a church must respond.” Panelists and workshop leaders on Wednesday included: Wallace Hartsfield (Central Baptist Theological Seminary); Angela Sims (St. Paul School of Theology); Charles Tillman (Richmond Woodville Church of the Nazarene); Montague Williams (Eastern Nazarene College); Brandon Winstead (Killearn United Methodist Church [FL]), and Deth Im (People Improving Communities Through Organizing).
Many of the panelists noted that they had no choice in engaging race, as it extends from their personhood and social situation. Angela Sims noted that conversation alone does not work in truth and reconciliation, noting that if we do not speak truth in the midst of privilege we cannot embrace reconciliation. Montague Williams noted that it is important for us to remember that our words matter, and that when it comes to race, truth is really caught up in the narrative which often includes painful stories of exclusion.
Wallace Hartsfield challenged the idea of truth and reconciliation, stating that we need to name two key issues: 1) “Whose truth?” Hartsfield noted that we often assume an “objective truth” that actually assumes a Western European perspective rather than including the perspectives and realities of people of color. 2) “Whose reconciliation?” How do we talk about reconciliation if there has never been a conciliation? If we are talking about this country, he said, there is no time when African Americans have been constituted as full participants—full human beings.
Charles Tillman noted that for black pastors to fully participate in the life of the church, there has to be a real platform for real respect and understanding. Brandon Winstead noted that we need to have conversations around power, history and money if we really want to challenge congregants to address the “nitty gritty” stuff that shapes congregational life.
Deth Im, serving as moderator, asked panelists to help those in attendance begin to think about how the church needs to respond. Hartsfield noted that, in order to properly address and find the truth, we have to begin with people that have never had an opportunity to be full participants. We need to begin to talk about conciliation as the primary task, the hard work; to acknowledge a past that did not exist and work toward a future that truly “conciliates.”
On Thursday, Williams, Winstead and Tillman led a lunch dialogue with local youth pastors, continuing the conversation around racism and youth ministry specifically. Ministers were challenged to avoid thinking of race as an “addendum” to their regular curriculum and plan, but rather see it as something that is a part of all they do. Later that evening, a similar group gathered back at the Seminary to watch the documentary, “We are Superman: The Transformation of 31st and Troost.” Chuck Sailors, former Director of the Kansas City Urban Youth Center (which was located at 39th and Troost), led a dialogue after the showing.
“The conversations that we had this week are important,” shared Dr. Jesse Middendorf, Executive Director of the NTS CPL. “We plan to make this an annual event; however, I think we were all challenged to see that conversation is not enough. May God give us the courage to do the hard work that needs to be done in order that our churches might reflect the Kingdom of God more fully.”
Sessions from the week were recorded and will be able on the CPL website. Click here to find out how to become a member/subscriber, giving you access to a wide variety of ministerial resources.
You can click here to download Theology To Go, a take-home journal of resources written by several of the week’s participants as well as others. The winning paper of this years’ Tom Nees Social Justice Award written by NTS student Tim Hahn is included in the journal. Tim presented his paper, “Lest We Forget Thine Agony: Racial Reconciliation, Memory and the Wounds of Christ”, to the NTS community this past Monday.
Keep up to date on events happening at NTS by following us on Facebook or by regularly checking our website’s “Upcoming Events” page.