By Noel Santiago
Hope for the Future is a unique gathering in that it brings together leaders of color and white leaders who work and serve in MCUSA agencies, institutions and organizations, to intentionally focus the work of intercultural transformation in the church. While it’s primarily focused on the agencies, institutions and organizations of MCUSA, the hope is to eventually impact all parts of the church. This gathering grew out of needs being felt by people of color in church-wide leadership positions who continually encounter systemic racism in a multiplicity of ways.
This year, the sixth Hope for the Future gathering took place February 2-5, 2017 in Hampton, Virginia. Approximately 75 persons gathered from across the United States. Persons of Native American, African American, Asian, Hispanic, and other backgrounds as well as Swiss, Germanic, Dutch, and other ethnicities were present.
The theme of this year’s gathering was “Doing Kingdom Work”. Carlos Romero, Executive Director of Mennonite Education Agency and member of the Hope for the Future planning committee, framed the work for the weekend stating, “We have come together for such a time as this,” speaking to today’s political climate.
These tensions felt today are not new. In the 1970’s, when there seemed to be momentum among people of color in leadership within the denomination, most of the positions of people of color were eliminated under what was called “restructuring.” This led to a handful of leaders of color in the Mennonite Church feeling the need to meet for mutual support and counsel. When other leaders of color became aware of this gathering, they voiced an interest in participating in such a forum/conversation. Out of this grew Hope for the Future.
The purpose for these gatherings was formulated as follows:
- To gather as a worshiping community of faith to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church through the leaders of color within Mennonite Church USA system.
- To provide a safe setting to assess the present reality and experiences for leaders of color within Mennonite Church USA system.
- To put forth a plan/strategy/call for deepening awareness and ownership of the ongoing transformation of Mennonite Church USA.
- To collect learnings from leaders of color to create a forum to bring about the next level of transformation for Mennonite Church USA.
To not have history repeat itself it is important for both people of color and the white culture, to be intentional about inviting and retaining people of color. Hope for the Future allows space for discussion on how various things impact people in different ways. This year, discussions focused on what it means to be a peace church in consideration of the lived reality of people of color in this country, how to monitor and change when policies are being implemented inconsistently, and visioning for Hope for the Future.
Because of the work being done through Hope for the Future since 2011, this year’s gathering also called for reporting by MCUSA agencies, institutions and organizations on their progress on policies and practices that address the hiring and retaining of persons of color within their respective organizations. While much progress has been made, there is still much to do.
Hope for the Future is not a one-time event, gathering, conference or what have you. It is about the lived experiential realities people of color encounter on a day to day basis in our church. Our hope is that the ‘kin-dom’ of God will come on earth, in our church, as it is in heaven. To this end, we hope for the future!
For more about the 2017 gathering, check out Hope for the Future: Together For a Time Such as This, in The Mennonite.