In late July, hundreds of us caught planes, packed cars, and boarded buses to make our way to The Big Tent in Knoxville, Tennessee located on the campus of the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Our Presbyterian Intercultural Network (PIN) connected to the Big Tent theme this year – “Living Missionally—Advocacy”. Our preconference, co-sponsored by the Office for Intercultural Ministries and the PIN, began with worship in the beautiful Black Cultural Center. This space was transformed into a sacred space filled with reminders of our interconnectedness from across the globe.
We kicked off our time together with an opening worship service that acknowledged deeply embedded societal powers that shape and form our lives, our relationships, and our communities. We also acknowledged the transforming power of God’s rich diversity and Jesus’ call upon our lives to bring justice to our world. A dialog sermon by Nib Stroupe and Connie Lee entitled “Deep In Our Hearts” used the Ephesians 6:10-20 text to remind us of systems that promote division based on race, class, gender and other forms of oppression. They reminded us of how these systems maintain their effectiveness because the systems reside deep in our own hearts. Therefore, they suggested that in order to be set free from these oppressive systems, we put on the “whole armor of God” by implementing four “R”s in our lives — recognition, resistance, resilience, and reconciliation.
PCUSA Moderator, Heath Rada made a surprise visit and participated with us in some of our activities and encouraged us to continue our dialogues so we might live as Christ has called us to live.
Throughout our time together, everyone at the Intercultural Pre-conference participated in activities that allowed us to see that the playing field is not level for everyone. We also shared our own stories about race and how race has impacted each of our lives. As we learned about the many different types of power, we were challenged to think about ways we might use such power to advocate on behalf of others.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss providing leadership for any group seeking to be in dialogue with sisters and brothers whose experiences differ from their own.
Connie Lee, PIN secretary