‘We Are Getting To Know Each Other As Co-Journeyers’

Peter McNabb

Rev. Peter McNabb reflects on First UMC Terrell’s Congregational Journey Toward Racial Justice

When asked to help start a pilot program at my church for the Journey Toward Racial Justice, my immediate questions were of the “what” variety: What kind of curriculum would we be given? What kind of timeline would we pursue? What would we do at our meetings?

To my surprise, I learned that this Journey was not something following a one-size-fits-all script. We were to gather a team and work with the support of the North Texas Conference to discover the best ways forward in our own unique setting. The Conference would provide not so much a coach but more of a Journey Companion, in our case a layperson and retired college professor, Dr. Chuck Rives of First UMC Denton, who joins us in our meetings and serves as a great sounding board for me.

Like the journeyers in Scripture, I felt perhaps we did not know exactly where we were going, but I trusted God to lead us.

Terrell, a town of 17,000, is 30 miles east of downtown Dallas – close enough to go into town to shop or go to the doctor, but far enough away to not be considered a suburb. We are a town-and-country setting, with historic roots and many people who have been part of this community for generations.

Racially, the community is almost a third each: Black, White and Brown. Yet, as the cliché goes, the most segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. on Sundays. When we sought to include people of color among our church members, we had very few from which to draw. So, we reached out beyond our church and were blessed to receive, as part of the team, the Rev. Evelyn Kelly, pastor of Warren Chapel UMC in Terrell.

We began our Journey gathering a team. Our Nominating Committee selected a group of people. I made the phone calls seeking their participation. More progressive-minded folks embraced the opportunity. More conservative ones resisted.

Meetings have been educational with us frequently sharing videos of TED talks or taking time to examine our own community and church history in the area of race. In between meetings, we broke into pairs and went out conducting assessment interviews with a dozen leaders in our church on their own journeys. 

Tuesday evenings Tuesday evening Bible study.

We are currently preparing for a Cultural Competency Training to bring our key leaders in for a session led by Rev. Dr. April Bristow.

Among the surprising turns in our journey so far has been the growing diversity in our Youth program. Friends are inviting friends, especially for Wednesday Night Youth Suppers and weekend events.  The result has been a racially diverse group that loves and supports each other.

Another blessing from the journey has been Rev. Kelly and the expanding relationship we have with Warren Chapel UMC. Her church was undergoing building renovations, and, for their charge conference in September, met at our Fellowship Hall where we were about to start Disciple Bible Study. Some of their members began asking about our class, and we invited them to join.

The result has been a Tuesday evening Bible study that brings diverse people together. The format of the class allows for friendships to be formed centered around discussions that focused on making disciples through Bible study. Race is certainly a topic, but it is not the main focus of our Bible studies. We are getting to know each other as co-journeyers.

Our eventual plan is to develop dinners-for-eight, where people of diverse groups can gather for structured table talk on their experiences in their journeys regarding race. But in the meantime, we are experiencing a holy communion of sorts that opens our eyes toward some vital conversations, changed hearts and partnerships in God’s love and grace.

We began our journey by asking the “what” questions when the better ones were the “how” questions:  How is God going to lead us on our journey? How are we going to respond?

For those churches considering the Journey Toward Racial Justice, I would encourage you to jump in the water and get with the Conference office and explore the possibilities. You know your church and community better than anyone and can work to develop the best way forward for your own setting.

Just be prepared for God to open your eyes to new and surprising opportunities that may be off-script but right on-target.

Email Rev. Peter McNabb if you have a question or would like more information.

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