Ohio clergy swap pulpits
Thirty UM clergy in the greater Cincinnati area of Ohio swapped pulpits to promote diversity and spark dialogue on Jan. 18, Human Relations Day — one of six special Sundays in the Church.
The next day was national Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The pulpit swap was just one outcome of Circles of Grace conversations taking place across that district of the West Ohio Conference.
Circles of Grace was birthed from an invitation by West Ohio Bishop Gregory Palmer for congregations to engage the broken chaos of our world with the love of Jesus Christ. In a letter to constituents, the bishop asserted that church members should gather for in-depth, substantive conversations about the things that divide us as United Methodists.
After controversial grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the U.S. deaths of African-American men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, preachers in the Ohio River Valley District noticed polarized responses in their congregations.
They began to meet regularly to discuss the developing tension.
One African-American pastor in the district reported harassment from another driver on his way to one of the meetings. Another, whose congregation includes police officers and public servants, shared how those congregants felt misjudged by news reporting.
The pulpit swap grew out of recognition that this tension provided an opportunity for growth and transformation.
Each guest preacher shared a message about the ministry of reconciliation. An opening video, titled "How Long," showed images of the U.S. civil-rights movement juxtaposed with images of protests in Ferguson, Mo.
The guest preachers asked listeners to consider images with common threads: African-American parents worrying that their children might lose their lives; police officers’ spouses nervously waiting for them to come home.
The preachers asked the congregants to imagine a line with numbers 1 through 10, representing polarized perspectives between police support and police criticism. Then they asked:
• What number would you identify with along the line?
• For every position on the number line, could you name a person with that viewpoint in your circle of influence?
Also, a series of four Circles of Grace training sessions for laity and clergy has begun, led by diversity specialists.
— from "Faith in Action," Feb. 23, General Board of Church and Society
One hope for the pulpit swap was that it would help people of varied perspectives find common ground.