Leaders meet to consult on Episcopal Church’s ethnic ministries

January 17, 2012

A Consultation on Alternative Leadership and Theological Training was held January 11-14, 2012, in a suburb of Oklahoma City. This was the first ever churchwide gathering of Episcopal Church leaders involved in ethnic ministries for the purpose of identifying and discussing the common elements of ministry in ethnic communities.

The four ethnic missioners of the Episcopal Church (Sarah Eagle Heart, Indigenous Ministries; Anthony Guillen, Latino/Hispanic Ministries; Angela Ifill, Black Ministries; Winfred Vergara, Asiamerica Ministries) convened the consultation. Eagle Heart, who is the team leader for Diversity, Social and Environmental ministries, explained that Winter Talk, a gathering of people in Indigenous ministry that was originally planned for the same weekend, had been canceled to focus program budget on training.

The missioners worked with acknowledged leaders in each ethnic ministry to invite eight to ten individuals to participate plus seven bishops who are actively involved with ethnic ministries. Several resource people who work directly with ethnic ministries were also invited, including a representative from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Gordon Straw, formerly the Director for American Indian and Alaska Native Ministries and now Program Director for Lay Missional Leadership Centers, represented the church’s full communion partner.

Ruth-Ann Collins, officer for Lifelong Christian Formation, served as the facilitator of the breakout groups and reporting-out to the whole group. Much of the conversation centered on formation education and training for laypersons and those in various stages of the Holy Orders process. Collins said, “the Formation and Vocation team of The Episcopal Church is committed to be a resource for this important work.”

Several key commonalities were identified among the different ethnic groups. Within each ethnic group, there exists significant diversity. For example, the Latino/Hispanic, Black and Asiamerican groups are comprised of immigrants from a number of countries as well as descendants of prior immigrants, and those immigrants and descendants speak a variety of languages and dialects and possess diverse cultural histories and traditions. Among Indigenous people, there are different Indian tribes and cultures from Alaska, the mainland states, and Hawaii.

The consultation’s participants repeatedly emphasized the need to help ethnic individuals discern ministry and undertake education and training within contexts that support, acknowledge, and honor their specific cultures. Self-selection and self-promotion of Anglos in the dominant culture is common. However, in ethnic cultures, values and norms associated with individual modesty, respect of age and hierarchy, and waiting to be asked, highlight a need for the church to provide culturally appropriate entry paths to leadership and ordination.

Attendee Kaze Gadway, who ministers to Native American youth in Arizona, posted to Facebook, “Was in the small group of all four ethnic peoples on question of informal lay training for ethnic groups. A key insight was the need for long-term mentorship rather than just sending someone off to a mainly Anglo meeting. Another was to provide spiritual, leadership and social training on a local level before going to a more formal training in another location with a majority culture.”

Seven bishops took time from their schedules to join in the discussions, share their experience with this work, and to listen to the stories and concerns raised by attendees. These bishop colleagues are involved hands-on with ethnic ministries in their dioceses. Participating were Michael Smith and Carol Gallagher of North Dakota , John Tarrant of South Dakota, Dave Bailey of Navajoland, Alan Scarfe of Iowa, Diane Jardine Bruce of Los Angeles, and Ed Konieczny of Oklahoma.

The ethnic missioners will compile the insights and observations generated by the consultation to share with the church. The missioners and the ethnic leaders expect to continue working to develop recommendations for lifelong formation for ethnic communities. To provide live coverage of the consultation, a Facebook open group titled “Alternative Leadership and Theological Training” contains photographs and other information. A Facebook group member posted, “This is a great way to get the word out about these types of events occurring in TEC that the wider church is unaware of.”

This work will continue next month at the New Community Clergy and Lay Training Conference to be held February 29 to March 3, 2012, in San Diego, California. The theme of this first joint training event to be sponsored by the church’s Ethnic Offices is “Reclaiming our Mission; Reinterpreting our Context; Renewing our Communities.” The New Community event will address questions such as “How is mission shaped in non-Anglo/non-European communities?” and “How is ministry done in the context of marginality?” as well as provide opportunities for inter-ethnic conversations and multicultural celebration. For more information, contact Sarah Eagle Heart at [email protected].

Lelanda Lee is a member of the Episcopal Church Executive Council from Longmont, Colorado.