You don’t really seem like a Church person Dirk

  • Anyone I’ve met.

Some who read my post “Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly” will recognize that is not my quote, in fact I heard it at service that day and was inspired to come out to the same park I am in now to write about it.

Again this Sunday, after attending the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship I am feeling inspired to write about service and duty, things that have meant a lot to me my entire life (as a scout) , and which I feel a longing for when I am not doing regularly.

Today’s service included an inspiring story of a white congregation member who spent 30+ years serving the Voice of Calvary in Mississipi, an African American Christian Community Development Association that provided youth, housing and health services, and also ran a coop thrift store.

She meant to be a volunteer there just for the summer; after finishing at Lafayette college (an elite private school) this would be an opportunity for her to experience another culture before whatever was next. Instead she proceeded to stay for 32 years.

Her full story is of course deep and vast, we only heard half hour or it, but there were some key points she raised which deserve reflection when engaging with any community service.

Inclusion in the association required relocation into the inner city they were serving, this ensured that the problems of the community were the problems of those assisting, leveling the power dynamic between the service giver and receiver.

There was a clear division between the members who had been raised and educated under John Perkins and the students from all over the country who were coming to observe and assist.

Often young white alpha males would gravitate to positions of authority at the expence of African American members of the group, the new leader of the chapter was African American, but not indiginous to Missisipi, causing still tensions.

These deep seeded issues of power and cooperation lasted decades, they only shifted as new generations came into power that talk of distributing it happened.

The group was rooted in conservative christian values, with the singular exception of black empowerment, gender based power models still existed, disempowering the women who worked in the association, but were unable to build leadership positions.

Ultimately though this person and the partner she met there stayed, they worked through the conflict and division, they built alliances, eventually they were accepted by long standing members who created a space for them to listen and engage in discussion about the association.

By not turning away from the problem, by recognizing the issues of power distribution in the group, by recognizing and respecting the history, culture, and time period for the group, and by constantly showing service and duty to the mission, they were able to become members that created positive change.

During the open comments section after, there were some great quotes by other members.

Power is never useful when it is horded at the top, it denies the society the potential of all its members.

Every relationship has a power dimension that we don’t generally recognize, especially in the moment.

Often when white groups come into a community to fix things, they find the leaders in that community and give them a seat at the table, they then teach them to dominate their community with power, propagating this culture of oppression through concentration of wealth and power.

Ultimately it was great to sit and listen to a group of people who understand that the path forward for our species is to recognize the power in everyone, to help them realize that power in themselves, and to jointly work together to direct that energy at creating positive change.