Last year Rev. Angela Taylor Perry, the first African American woman to graduate from Calvin Theological Seminary, was appointed Pastor of Reconciliation for Faith Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Mich. Hers is the first such position in the CRC, setting a powerful precedent for the growth of culturally diverse congregations. The Banner asked her to tell us more about herself and her work.
With more strength is how I live. In the first year of my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, I realized that I could choose to live my life victoriously, or I could choose to live in fear of the “beast.” Twenty-three years of triumphant living have taught me that God’s grace is truly sufficient.
As pastor of reconciliation for Faith Church, I am called as an open, living vessel of God’s faithfulness to bring broken hearts into spiritual alignment.
Webster’s defines reconciliation as bringing into harmony that which is out of balance. I charge that the church, Christ’s gathered body, is in deep need of heart balancing.
The church, in its unity and diversity, is the means by which God intends to reveal himself, to proclaim the good news, and to unite all things in Christ. So how do we respond obediently to the scriptural mandate not only to be reconciled to God but to receive the ministry of reconciliation?
Often our hearts are kept bound by the fear of being known and the sin of judging others based on our own human limitations. We nurture biblical kingdom diversity by seeking to be reconciled to God first and pleading with God to change our hearts. Then our reconciliation to each other will flow out of our intentional living sacrifice.
I believe that the first step toward reconciliation is a willing spirit and the practice of spiritual disciplines. A willing heart who basks in prayer, silence, solitude, and Scripture reading will truly reap the rewards of drawing near to God. And a repentant heart who welcomes the call as an ambassador of reconciliation enters into the reciprocal love language that God desires with us in worship.
I accepted the call to Faith Church not to recruit more ethnic folks but to facilitate real heart change. Along with leading worship, my first task was to recruit a small team for prayer and accountability. I meet with the team once a month.
Next, I extended an open invitation to the congregation to explore together what reconciliation would look like in Faith Church. Twenty-eight folks accepted the challenge. We shared stories about the first time we experienced race and racism, watched films exposing white privilege, read books and articles on multicultural church ministry, and welcomed speakers from the community. I extended personal invitations to members of this group to meet with me one on one to intentionally develop interracial friendships.
For these informal hours of disclosure I use a curriculum I am writing titled Hearts in Harmony. We meet at restaurants or coffee shops—sharing a meal together creates a wonderful atmosphere for fellowship. These relationships are good for building communication skills; however, the real challenge is for members to establish interracial and crosscultural relationships in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities.
Developing a deeper relationship with God and nurturing intentional interracial friendships is one big step toward bridging what divides us. Stronger steps will include a witness against racism and prejudice, and defense of all people as image-bearers of God. Equally important is to develop joint worship and work projects with congregations from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Those steps help take us out of our comfort zones and require ethnic leadership.
The reconciliation that God desires and that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians is what I call our “heart challenge.” It requires intentionality and sacrifice. But I believe that when we seek God’s righteousness as a priority for reconciliation with each other, we will have stepped onto the bridge.
The CRC’s Race Relations ministry offers churches training in biblical racial reconciliation through workshops called “Dance of Racial Reconciliation” (U.S.) and “Widening the Circle” (Canada). For more information or to schedule a workshop, please call the Office of Race Relations at 877-864-3977 (toll free) or 616-224-5883 and ask for Rev. Esteban Lugo, director, or Jan Ortiz, administrative assistant. For more information on Rev. Taylor Perry’s curriculum for cultivating interracial friendships, see www.spaceforracialreconciliation.com.