INSPIRATION FOR THE COMMON GOOD • VOLUME 8 • ISSUE 4 • WINTER 2017 • $10.00
Healing Divides S P E C I A L E D I T I O N : F A I T H , L E A D E R S H I P A N D C O M M U N I T Y.
(Print edition: ISSN 2328-4366; Online edition: ISSN 2328-4374) is published quarterly by the Kansas Leadership Center, which receives core funding from the Kansas Health Foundation. The Kansas Leadership Center equips people with the ability to make lasting change for the common good. KLC focuses on leadership being an activity, not a role or position. Open to anyone seeking to move the needle on tough challenges in the civic arena, KLC envisions more Kansans sharing responsibility for acting together in pursuit of the common good. KLC MISSION
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To be the center of excellence for civic leadership development
Jeff Tuttle Photography 316.706.8529 jefftuttlephotography.com
Chris Green 316.712.4945 firstname.lastname@example.org ART DIRECTION + DESIGN
Novella Brandhouse 816.868.9825 www.novellabrandhouse.com CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
Sarah Caldwell Hancock Mark McCormick Dawn Bormann Novascone Laura Roddy Thomas Stanley Patsy Terrell Brian Whepley
Joe Stumpe CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Born in southern Illinois, Joe studied journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. A writer, musician and culinary instructor, he’s spent his career along the Arkansas River, working in Texarkana, Tulsa and Little Rock before moving to Wichita in 1999.
COPY EDITORS KANSAS LEADERSHIP CENTER BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Bruce Janssen Shannon Littlejohn
David Lindstrom, Overland Park (Chair) Ed O’Malley, Wichita (President & CEO) Ron Holt, Wichita Karen Humphreys, Wichita Susan Kang, Lawrence Carolyn Kennett, Parsons Greg Musil, Overland Park Reggie Robinson, Topeka Clayton Tatro, Fort Scott Frank York, Ashland
Joel Mathis Chapman Rackaway Michael Smith
Jeff Tuttle PHOTOJOURNALIST
A Kansas native and Kansas State University journalism graduate, Jeff worked for 20 years as a staff photographer at The Wichita Eagle. He is currently a freelance photojournalist and is married to Laura Tuttle, an interior designer. They have two children, Erin, a third-grade teacher in Wichita, and Zach, a student at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
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Patsy Terrell KANSAS LEADERSHIP CENTER
325 East Douglas Avenue Wichita, KS 67202 www.kansasleadershipcenter.org
Patsy is devoted to stories, however they find their way to her. This has led to a career of asking questions. She has worked in radio, television and print journalism, as well as being a public relations and marketing professional. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, with degrees in journalism and telecommunication.
Contents INSPIRATION FOR THE COMMON GOOD • VOLUME 8 • ISSUE 4 • WINTER 2017 PUBLISHED BY KANSAS LEADERSHIP CENTER
Welcome to the Journal BY: PRESIDENT AND CEO ED O’MALLEY
Starting a Different Kind of Dialogue BY: CHRIS GREEN, DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE AND JOE STUMPE
Working for the Common Good During a Trump Presidency BY: CHAPMAN RACKAWAY AND MICHAEL SMITH
Healing Divides BY: CHRIS GREEN
Taking over the Work BY: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
BY: PATSY TERRELL
BY: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
BY: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
BY: JOE STUMPE
Looking for the Next Leap
A Gathering Spot for Action BY: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
Engaging in a Debate on Sacred Ground
BY: BRIAN WHEPLEY
The Other Side of a Stand
BY: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
BY: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
Facing Change in the Midst of Changing Faces
Finding a Connection Point
Answering the Call
BY: LAURA RODDY
BY: CHRIS GREEN
Taking the First Step
Building Eternal Citizens PHOTO ESSAY BY: JEFF TUTTLE
When the Moment Calls for Shutting Up BY: JOEL MATHIS
When Worlds Collide BY: MARK MCCORMICK
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LETTER FROM KANSAS LEADERSHIP CENTER PRESIDENT & CEO ED O’MALLEY
Getting Beyond Our Silos THE WORK OF CIVIC LEADERSHIP INCREASINGLY REQUIRES US TO WORK MUCH HARDER AT LISTENING TO AND UNDERSTANDING OTHERS.
We at the Kansas Leadership Center work with a number of private companies and each is concerned with the dreaded “silo mentality.”
The education of our children, our roads, our tax structure, economic policies and safety net duties all suffer.
“We must break people out of their silos!”
Like the CEO who realizes that unless marketing and production get on the same page, the company is doomed, our silo living – our division – is now so bad that I believe “division” itself is an issue.
“Our silo mentality is stifling our innovation.” Or, my favorite: “We prefer the term ‘silicones of excellence,’ rather than silos, but regardless they are getting in the way.” The danger of silo thinking is obvious. People fail to see the whole picture, missing out on crucial pieces of data needed to solve tough challenges. Others fail to be exposed to your thinking and data, which keeps them from seeing the whole picture. Silo thinking is so dangerous that we are often asked to work with companies for the primary purpose of helping people learn how to exercise leadership to knock the silos down. What’s true in our companies is also true in our civic life. Our silo thinking threatens everything. We live in liberal and conservative silos, rich and poor silos, rural and urban silos, university educated and high school educated silos. Much like the CEO who knows that silo thinking threatens her company, silo thinking in our society threatens everything we care about.
Why do all these silos exist in our society? Cultural anthropologists will explain it to us someday. I can only assume it has something to do with technology giving us the ability to isolate ourselves. I also assume it will take a generation or more to bring us back to a less divided society. So, for the time being, working across these silos – factions – or working to bring together those who are divided is a necessity. It is part of the work of civic leadership. It might be the work of civic leadership. Will everyone hold hands and be on the same page? Of course not. Civic life is rough and tough and it’s not for the faint of heart. One-hundred percent consensus is rarely possible. But winning issues with your faction alone isn’t sustainable. If it’s adaptive work, other points of view – other silos – have information and ideas needed for defining the problem and imagining the solutions. What do we do about it? My answer comes from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” I read that to mean: “help me bridge the divides.”
And the way to be an instrument of peace is described later in the prayer: â€œGrant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.â€? Breaking down the silos, decreasing our division, is a paramount issue for civic leadership. Progress will be made when we quit defending our silo, when we quit trying to get others to understand our silo and when we start consoling and understanding others. My experience tells me that when we do that, we receive the same in return. And then, the silos are a little lower, we are less divided, and we can make progress.
PRESIDENT & CEO KANSAS LEADERSHIP CENTER
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Starting a Different Kind of Dialogue CONVENING OPENS CONVERSATION ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN POLICE AND COMMUNITIES OF COLOR
By: CHRIS GREEN, DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE AND JOE STUMPE
For about two hours last fall, Kansans gave voice to their views, listened to others and attempted to diagnose a difficult adaptive challenge. When it was over, those leaving the Konza Town Hall of the Kansas Leadership Center didn’t depart with a lot of clarity about what the way forward should be. Discussing a deep, daunting challenge requires wrestling with a level of messiness and uncertainty that can be tough to reckon with. Still, most on hand reported finding the dialogue to be worthwhile. Last fall, the KLC invited alumni of its leadership development programs to take part in a discussion about enhancing relationships between communities of color and law enforcement. About 80 alumni – from across Kansas and beyond – schooled in the competencies of diagnosing the situation, managing self, intervening skillfully and energizing others accepted invitations to take part in the convening. They represented many of the different factions with a stake in the issue – law enforcement, people of color and the state’s white majority.
The gathering took place against the backdrop of a series of killings over the summer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Dallas. The first two involved the fatal shootings of black men by police. The third saw the killing of five Dallas police officers who were ambushed while providing protection at a peaceful protest. The October convening was part of an effort by the KLC board of directors to respond to those incidents and others. The convening represented the first time that KLC has brought Kansans together to specifically work through an important civic issue. Additional discussions on the topic are being planned for 2017. Journal contributing editors Dawn Bormann Novascone and Joe Stumpe asked some of participants to reflect on their experiences. They discussed what they had been thinking about in the weeks since the convening, how the dialogue influenced their thinking and any takeaways they had.
Editor’s Note: Please contact KLC President and CEO Ed O’Malley at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about the convening or for further details about what is being planned in 2017.
“I think we were far from finding common ground, but I actually thought it could be possible to do so, at least on a small scale, if given additional opportunities to communicate in a similar forum. Really, in the end, everyone wants a community where they feel safe and where they can rear their children with equal access to opportunities for future success and happiness.”
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Lawrence, Kansas Leadership Center Board of Directors
“Is there ever a time where we will stop telling of our concerns and start telling of solutions? … While we need to acknowledge concerns, why are those who state continued concerns not held accountable for joint solutions or individual solutions that can benefit both sides? I, as a white mom, do have some of the same concerns for my youngest son, who is a black male, as those black moms in the group.”
“The dialogue missed what I believe to be the big elephant in the room when you talk about relationships between law enforcement and community of color. And that big elephant in the room is, I believe, the narrative around police shootings and the not-so-good relationships between communities of color. I think that’s the tip of the iceberg or the tipping point.”
“It caused me to think more about how law enforcement is caught between the personal value systems of the officer and the value systems of law enforcement and the value systems of the communities where they police. More often than not, actions taken by the officers rarely reflect their own value system or that of the community in which they are policing. It’s not necessarily reflective of what they believe, it’s what they do.” GLORIA JEFF
“It’s obvious that at least in Kansas, from the people that were there, there’s more being done in some communities than what is being done in others. I think a conversation started there that needs to start locally, and it doesn’t have to be law enforcement that starts those conversations, the community can. JOHN KOELSCH
Lyon County undersheriff
“It reaffirmed to me that there are people, all well-meaning, that are at such different levels and depths and knowledge of history that it makes it very, very tough to have conversations until we’re all on the same playing level. I saw very well-meaning ... groups and individuals but I saw such a great lack of history that kind of inhibits or incapacitates or handicaps them from being able to move forward in a meaningful conversation.”
h VONZEL SAWYER
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Working for the common good during a Trump presidency. Donald Trump takes the oath of office this month to become the 45th president of the United States. What does his presidency mean for the exercise of leadership in our deeply divided country?
By: CHAPMAN RACKAWAY
A LEADERSHIP TEST THAT FALLS ON ALL OF US
In my pre-election dialogue with Michael Smith in the Fall edition of The Journal, I focused my attention on the first principle that the Kansas Leadership Center teaches: leadership as an act, more so than a position. Considering the public reaction to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, it is high time to consider the idea of civic leadership in a larger context. The presidency is a symbol of the United States. But as the federal government has grown in scope and importance, the national executive has transcended mere symbolism and become all too often the embodiment of the U.S. In embracing the “president as America,” we have perhaps allowed ourselves to lose sight of our role as leaders-in-action in favor of the president as leader-by-position. I do see opportunities for President Donald Trump to exercise leadership by working across factions within his party and holding the U.S. to purpose. He faces the ire of Democrats and distrust from many within his own party. Being an effective president will seriously test his self-promoted negotiation skills. He’ll also need to keep the citizenry moving forward and not embrace the backward thinking on social progress embodied by the alt-right movement that his campaign often empowered.
But the real leadership test in this country falls more broadly, landing on all of us who care about our country. If we truly lead from whatever positions we occupy, then the negative impact of any candidate winning that we did not support is softened a bit. We have become comfortable letting our politicians do the leading for us. Passively we quadrennially participate in elections, but we do precious little in between, even for other elections like primaries. We do not provide the guiding perspective and leadership to our elected officials in the interim, mostly because we have mistakenly convinced ourselves that our duty is only to select the candidates. You wouldn’t take your hands off the steering wheel 90 percent of the time while driving, and yet we expect to do the same with our government and not expect it to end up in the ditch. With a president who by his nature is often divisive, the best way for the public to deal with the Trump era is to exert more of its natural leadership potential. Chapman Rackaway is a political science professor at Fort Hays State University. He is an alumnus of Kansas Leadership Center programs.
For loyal opponents, it’s time to use your exile well. My colleague and dear friend Chapman Rackaway suggests that we face the Election Day shock by stepping up, as community leaders. I couldn’t agree more.
By: MICHAEL SMITH
Leadership must rebuild broken institutions and broken faith in them, develop a culture of kindness, and give all Americans and all people places to go where they will be safe.
plus our own moral codes will determine what happens next.
But there is more. There must be more. We’re Americans, dammit. We don’t just survive. We thrive.
If President Donald Trump succeeds at healing some of the fissures his campaign exposed, then America will be great again. Otherwise, future leaders had better be ready, because we know not the hour when we will be called.
In “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell cataloged myths from around the world to learn what makes a hero (at the KLC we would say leader instead, but Campbell was a traditionalist). One of the stages is living in exile, banished (spiritually, politically or literally) from one’s homeland, forced to cope with loss: dead, then reborn when we face our own shadows.
As a Democrat, I see myself as being part of the loyal opposition. I plan to spend my exile reading, meditating, rediscovering my faith, teaching, getting my body into shape and loving everyone I know with the deepest, kindest empathy and compassion I can muster. Dear reader (and leader), I hope you, too, use your exile well. We’re going to need you one day.
This cuts both ways. Nelson Mandela returned to make big changes after exile in a South African prison – but so did the Ayatollah Khomeini, upon his return to Iran from France. Providential timing
Michael Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University. He is an alumnus of Kansas Leadership Center programs.
Discussion Guide 1. What was your reaction to Donald Trump’s election? Why do you think you had the reaction you did? What values were at play for you? 2. What values are most important for you to advance over the next four years? What opportunities do you see for advancing those values? 3. Let’s say that you exercise great leadership over the next four years. How will your community, state or country look different in 2020?
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Healing Divides SPECIAL EDITION:
FAITH, LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNITY
In times of division and disagreement, faith can promote the kind of healing that binds us together. Across Kansas, people of faith are exercising leadership by working across factions and energizing others inside and outside of their congregations. This edition of The Journal features stories detailing that often difficult work. In this issue, you will learn about: •
The efforts of the Catholic Dioceses based in Wichita and Dodge City to respond to changing demographics that include an influx of Hispanic parishioners, p. 10.
A writer’s story about how he resisted the urge to react angrily to a tragic event and instead composed a prayer about restraint and compassion, p. 78.
How faith-based coffeehouses in communities such as Chanute have become a way for ministries to reach people outside the confines of a traditional church, p. 26.
At klcjournal.com, you can read Thomas Stanley’s piece on the five things church members should stop doing – and alternatives they should do instead – to make their congregations stronger.
Two examples of Kansans who have taken very different stands on a difficult issue – gays and gay marriage in the church. A story about Matthew Vines begins on p. 42. On p. 46, The Journal profiles Pastor Rob Schmutz.
A series of leadership vignettes about the ways in which faith groups are working to strengthen a single place, the Kansas City metro area. Those profiled include: Helen Stringer of Oasis, p. 22; Adrion Roberson, Destiny! Bible Fellowship Community Church, p. 25; the Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, p. 36; Jill Maidhof of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, p. 39; Chris Winn of Community Life Church, p. 52; and Broderick Crawford of the New Bethel Church, p. 55.
• How working across factions is a crucial leadership skill for members of the state’s largest mosque, p. 58. • A Christian youth group’s efforts to build eternal citizens in an urban area of north-central Wichita, p. 73.
About the Cover This depiction of Our Lady of La Vang, an apparition of the Virgin Mary who helped persecuted Vietnamese Catholics cure themselves of illness, was photographed by The Journal’s Jeff Tuttle at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Wichita. The parish is located in the south-central part of the city and serves individuals who speak three different languages – Spanish, English and Vietnamese.
Snapshot: Faith in Kansas Kansas is the 19th most religious state in the U.S.
50% 37% 53% 66%
of adults in Kansas are “highly religious” say religion is very important to their lives say they attend worship services at least weekly say they pray daily say they believe in God with absolute certainty
About 76 percent of Kansans consider themselves to be Christians
31% 24% 2% 18% 1% 1% 1%
are Evangelical Protestant are Mainline Protestant are Historically Black Protestant are Catholic are Mormon are Jehovah’s Witness are Orthodox Christian or Other Christian
About 4 percent of Kansans are of non-Christian faiths
1% 1% 1% 1% 1%
About 20 percent of Kansans are unaffiliated (religious “nones”) 2%
are atheist 3% are agnostic 14% are nothing in particular 1% don’t know
are Jewish are Muslim are Buddhist are Hindu are of Other World Religions
SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER
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Parishioners fill a Spanish-speaking mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Wichita. Demographic changes in the Wichita Diocese have brought changes to parishes such as St. Patrickâ€™s, which was established more than 100 years ago and has grown progressively more Hispanic.
Facing change in the midst of changing faces SIGNIFICANT DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES CARRY MAJOR IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN KANSAS, NOT TO MENTION THE STATE AS A WHOLE. THE JOURNAL LOOKS AT HOW CHURCH OFFICIALS ARE EMBRACING THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE OF ENERGIZING OTHERS OVER RESPONDING TO THE CHURCHâ€™S CHANGING ETHNIC MIX.
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By: BRIAN WHEPLEY
When St. Margaret Mary Catholic School held its open house in August, parents of its 180-some students gathered in the gym for introductions of teachers, staff, the heads of the parent/teacher organization, and other groups. The Wichita parish’s priest, the Rev. Eric Weldon, then asked Spanishspeaking parents to head off to the church, while Vietnamese- and English-speaking parents moved to another, smaller room. Weldon speaks English, Spanish and a bit of Vietnamese, while the principal is fluent in Vietnamese and English and could translate the pastor’s message of stewardship, a crucial one in the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, where Catholic parishioners who tithe – talent and time as well as treasure – pay no tuition. In Kansas’ southwest corner, Bishop John Brungardt leads the Diocese of Dodge City and its 48 churches in 28 counties. When he was assigned his first parish in Arkansas City in 2001, he was charged by his bishop to begin a “more profound Hispanic ministry” in a community that’s become increasingly filled by those who trace their identity and heritage to Latin American countries such as Mexico and Guatemala where Spanish is the predominant language. Brungardt was soon off to Mexico for five months to study the language and culture, and now leads a diocese where more than half of Catholic households speak Spanish at home. Still, when he goes to some churches in Dodge City and Liberal, he must nod and smile and let others translate. Because for the natives of Guatemala who live there, if they know Spanish at all, it is their second language to such indigenous dialects as K’iche or Chuj. “It’s a challenge ministering to the Anglo population that might have been here many
generations, is very enculturated American, and then the Hispanic culture, typically Mexico but also Guatemala and some other countries, whether they be new immigrants or secondor third-generation. There’s quite a mix here,” Brungardt says, referring to the range of people but just as easily to the challenges. Catholic officials such as Weldon and Brungardt are among those trying to respond to major adaptive challenges being wrought by demographic change. Since 2000, the number of Hispanics living in Kansas has increased from 188,000 to nearly 330,000. Their ability to find success matters not just for the Catholic Church, but potentially for Kansas as a whole. About 20 percent of Kansans are Catholic, and the church is a major institution with credibility among Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites and other ethnicities. Projections suggest that Kansas, like the church, will grow increasingly diverse over the next 50 years. Churches have long played a crucial role in helping immigrants adapt to a new culture and strengthen their connections with the broader community. In responding to its own adaptive challenges, can the Catholic Church play a key role in helping better prepare Kansas and its communities for their own more diverse future by empowering newcomers and forging bonds across ethnic differences? THE CHALLENGE OF ENERGIZING OTHERS
Weldon, on his “second rodeo” at a heavily Hispanic church, calls the flow of Hispanics into Wichita over the past two decades “diluvial.” The stats agree.
The number of Hispanics in Sedgwick County more than tripled between 1990 and 2010 to more than 64,000 people, according to the census. Many Kansas cities, especially ones with meatpacking and manufacturing jobs such as Arkansas City, Dodge City, Liberal and others, have seen similar influxes. And whether they’re Hispanic with a generation or two in the United States or new arrivals from largely Catholic countries, they’re filling the pews at Catholic churches. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University research center, the U.S. in 2013 had an estimated 80 million people who identified as Catholic, more than 30 million of them Hispanic, about 38 percent of the total. In the Wichita diocese in 2010, more than 53,000 Catholics of about 168,000 total were Hispanic, the center reported. Without them, many Catholic parishes could be facing the same membership challenges as their mainline Protestant neighbors. And schools also would have many more empty desks and, in some cases, could be fighting a numbers game that’s closed urban Catholic schools across the country. The denomination is no stranger to ethnic and immigrant congregations. Germans, Italians, Croatians and others came to Kansas, built churches, worshiped together and steadily assimilated. But the Hispanic population is a story with a twist, because it plays out in established and once largely white dioceses and parishes and it involves a diverse ethnic group drawn from many countries, languages and generations. Hispanic, as a look at any census report will tell you, means many things, but homogeneity isn’t one of them. As with any church, new members, multiple generations, multiple languages and time itself bring with them some often painful changes and losses that people must adapt to. English service times shift to make room for Spanish masses, altar societies wither, men’s clubs die off, sometimes replaced by new committees or organizations, sometimes not.
A once popular Mexican dinner loses customers as new immigrants not partial to Tex-Mex opt out. Many Hispanic students fill seats in some Catholic schools but also deliver a financial challenge. The collection plate lightens, as older and often better-off parishioners die off and younger, less financially secure members fill pews. And although one in the faith, a diverse Catholic parish can seem like two or even three parishes in one, with the lines falling along language. Making all feel welcome, and giving them a voice in their church home, is a challenge. It’s a dynamic that raises the relevance of three important Kansas Leadership Center ideas for energizing others: speaking to loss, working across factions and inspiring a collective purpose. “When you are so comfortable in a parish or community and something starts changing, nobody likes change,” says Danny Krug, the Wichita diocese’s director of Hispanic ministry. “Why do we have to change? Why do we have to adapt? That’s a human thing, and that is the challenge.” As with many facets of faith, it’s not always easy to be both human and to respond to Jesus’ call, as Brungardt cites from the Gospel of John, “‘that all may be one since the Father and I are one.’ … He’s talking about coming together as a people of God, no matter our skin color, no matter our language or accent, no matter our culture or country. How can we come together? That’s what we’re trying to emphasize here.”
SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE
Efforts to respond to the changes underway have sparked a number of leadership interventions by church officials, some better received than others. Language is no doubt the biggest, most obvious barrier in a diverse church. Learning a language is challenging for many of us – priests included – but it’s a skill that can be acquired. As the Rev. Patrick Reilley at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Arkansas City says, it’s a technical challenge.
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From signs, services and seminarians to newsletters, classes and websites, parishes and dioceses have taken many steps over the years to meet it. Same-sized signs hang outside Sacred Heart Catholic School in Arkansas City. One portrays the Sacred Heart of Jesus, connecting to the parish name and Caucasian roots. The other shows Our Lady of Guadalupe, a celebrated symbol of Hispanic Catholicism. The lettering on both simply says, “Sacred Heart School” and “Escuela Sagrado Corazon,” its Spanish equivalent. “There’s a sense in which that just by the exterior symbols, people are welcome there and that we are speaking to their heart,” says Reilley. Outside St. Margaret Mary, tucked into a neighborhood just south of Harry Street in south-central Wichita, signs list Mass and confession times in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. In the early 1980s, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, at 23rd and Market streets in a neighborhood that’s been home to Hispanics for more than a century, was Wichita’s first parish to hold Spanish masses. Now, 13 churches across the Wichita diocese offer one or more Spanish Masses weekly, ranging from more Hispanic central Wichita to communities such as Arkansas City, Pittsburg, Independence and Newton. In the Dodge City diocese, 17 parishes offer Spanish or bilingual Mass from once a month to twice weekly. “When Spanish Masses began, the numbers of Hispanics quickly grew,” says Weldon, while mentioning that accommodating newcomers sent
some longtime members seeking greater English options to other parishes. Such changes, however, can also result in pushback from those invested in the status quo, even in a religious setting. In any house of worship, few things stir righteous indignation like messing with worship schedules. Brungardt ventured onto that troubled ground in Arkansas City years ago, moving Sunday Masses back an hour and making the later service bilingual, annoying some early risers. “And then he slowly introduced the Spanish language service,” says Diane Fiorentino, a parish council member who was church secretary for 11 years. “Some people just completely got offended, and they’d go, ‘Now I have to go to 9 o’clock Mass? That’s my only choice?’ Some people even left and would just go to Winfield or Newkirk, Oklahoma.” The learning curve isn’t limited to parishioners. Few parish priests grew up speaking Spanish, but the Wichita Catholic Diocese and Brungardt in Dodge City now require seminarians to study the language, whether in seminary or in intensive programs. Wichita seminarians spend summers with Spanish-speaking families to hone their skills. “Even the bishop has gone to his summer immersion in the Spanish language, and he speaks it,” Krug says of Bishop Carl Kemme. “He’s now doing his sermons in Spanish.” In their learning, they all have a model in Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, whose
native language is Spanish but who also speaks Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Ukrainian, Piedmontese and, of course, Latin. Having staff fluent in Spanish is both welcoming and essential to the functioning of the parish and building connections with Hispanics. “When I came here, I had to have a Spanishspeaking secretary in the school, and I had to have Spanish-speaking secretaries here,” says Weldon of St. Margaret Mary, which is two-thirds Hispanic. “Depending on the nature of when they arrive and what kind of work that they do, or even if they work out of the house, they speak English at different levels, but still Spanish is the language of their heart and their mind and their religion, which is why we have to have Spanish here.” “They’ve built that up,” Joe Rodriguez, a thirdgeneration Mexican-American, says of Spanish skills in the diocese. “If you feel comfortable and you’re able to listen and understand what’s going on, it’s huge,” says Rodriguez, who covered religion for The Wichita Eagle and now serves as development director at Holy Savior Church in Wichita. Rodriguez’s own experience is indicative of the layers of language and challenge in a changing
church. Like many from families here for generations, he speaks English in everyday life and attends English Mass at St. Patrick’s, having moved from Our Lady of Perpetual Help after English Masses became progressively fewer. Other, younger Catholics may choose differently. “We have young people who don’t really speak Spanish on their own, with their friends or among each other, but they prefer to go to a Spanish language Mass because it’s there that they encounter the Catholicism they are most comfortable with, the cultural parts of Catholicism that make them feel at home, the music, the other people, the way people respond to God in that context,” Reilley says. Both the Wichita and Dodge City dioceses have offices of Hispanic ministry that provide support and programs to parishes and can serve as a conduit for Hispanic members – often new to the country and the diocese – to immigration and other services by Catholic Charities and other ministries. Nationally, the church is undergoing its V Encuentro, a fifth national and multilayered four-year effort to discern how to better welcome and minister to growing Hispanic – and often young – memberships. Krug, a native of Venezuela, says her office organizes bilingual and Spanish language faith formation classes, an extended program drawing up to 100
LEFT TO RIGHT: The Rev. Patrick Reilley of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Arkansas City says a growing Hispanic population is helping bring younger people into the church; The Most Rev. John Brungardt, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, once studied Spanish in Mexico and now leads a diocese where half of Catholic households speak Spanish; Morning Mass for school children at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Wichita brings together people from three different backgrounds, including Sergio Delgado, who is being helped by Sister John Marie Zwenger.
Schools provide meeting places that mingle generations and cultures, says the Rev. Patrick Reilley of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Arkansas City.
“There’s a sense in which that just by the exterior symbols, people are welcome there and that speaks to their heart.” REV. PATRICK REILLEY OF THE SACRED HEART CATHOLIC CHURCH IN ARKANSAS CITY, ON HOW EXTERIOR SIGNS IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH MAKE A DIFFERENCE
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people in regular sessions each year. It also helps make sure that catechist training – lay teachers of the faith for youth and adults – and other programs have Spanish sessions or use a system employing headsets and translation. Sometimes, in a flip reflective of the times, Spanish is translated for English speakers. The goal of her office, first organized in the 1990s, is to help parishes and other church ministries reach out and serve Hispanic members, to assist rather than to dictate, she says. Diocesan and parish newsletters have pages of translated articles. Brungardt says his diocese is working to beef up its website with bilingual materials. This fall for the first time, one of its pastoral formation classes for lay people will be taught in Spanish through Newman University – for the far-flung diocese, transmitting interactive video to satellite locations is essential. Spanish and bilingual efforts address one challenge and point to another, particularly among immigrants. “A lot of people here have up to a third-grade level of education. I have people attending marriage education classes who couldn’t read. Putting something in the bulletin, you cannot trust that they can read it,” says the Rev. Jerome Spexarth of Wichita’s St. Patrick Church, a parish established more than 100 years ago that has grown progressively more Hispanic.
person or that language, but this person I know, my neighbor, my kid’s friend. And that builds a real bond between people.” The Wichita diocese’s Catholic schools – home to nearly 11,000 students – have been called some of the most successful in the country. Its stewardship-based model – if you’re Catholic and tithe time, talent and money to the parish, your kids attend free – has helped the school system survive and thrive at a time when Catholic schools in many dioceses are shrinking and expensive. The Hispanic influx has bolstered its inner-city schools, filling desks that otherwise might be empty, but filling them with students from younger, often less financially able families. A diocesan program, the St. Katharine Drexel Fund, lets Catholics diocesewide help level the field by sending money to challenged parishes. “Our school is more Caucasian than Hispanic, but that has changed each year and it’s become more Hispanic, more reflective of the actual demographics of the parish,” Reilley says. “I’ve made a conscious effort to invite more families from the Hispanic community to enroll their children in the school. One of the challenges we face is that our own success in some ways hurts us.” A PLACE AT THE TABLE
PLACES TO CREATE UNITY If you want folks speaking different languages to have a common purpose and understanding, school is a good place to start. “The school is a big bridge and continues to be a cohesive presence in our parish,” Spexarth says. “The school provides that meeting place between the generations and between the different cultures,” says Reilley, whose Arkansas City church is about one-third Hispanic, from long-established Mexican families to recently arrived Guatemalans drawn by jobs in meatpacking and manufacturing. “The kids become friends with each other. They spend the night at each other’s houses. They play with each other, so those kids are exposed to something different, a different way, a different culture. … It changes from the ‘Spanish people’ to they start calling each other by their names. They say, ‘Myrna,’ they say, ‘Maria,’ they say, ‘Susie.’ They don’t think of each other as that
Energizing others remains a significant challenge, and Catholic officials have at times needed to use authority to bring a broader array of voices to churches, even as they keep an eye on the more adaptive aspects of the challenge. Churches have paid priests and staff, but congregations large and small run on volunteers. From parish council members to people willing to wash windows, greet newcomers, handle finances, put out flowers or assist priests administering sacraments, churches require workers and lay leaders. And the people doing the work should look like the people in the pews, pastors say, which hasn’t always been the case. Weldon recalls replacing two of St. Patrick’s parish council members – of Hispanic descent but not Spanish speaking – with two Spanish speakers. Similarly, arriving at St. Margaret Mary in 2010, “there was something wrong” with the council: It was all-white and English-speaking, while a
Hispanic or Latino? OR SOMETHING ELSE?
The past few decades have shown that how we view identity is not fixed but evolves over time. As the United States becomes more diverse, weâ€™re likely to see more changes in how Hispanics and others choose to understand themselves as Kansans and Americans.
pre-1970s People of Latin American origin would identify themselves by their nationality and the region they lived in the United States.
1980 The term Hispanic first appears on the U.S. Census.
2000 The term Latino is used for the first time on the U.S. Census.
2007 Latino surpasses Hispanic in Google search trends.
2015 U.S. Census Bureau discusses changes to refer to categories rather than race or origin..
LEFT TO RIGHT: Ana Ojeda receives communion from the Rev. Eric Weldon at the morning school Mass at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Wichita. Weldon says having church staff members who are fluent in Spanish is welcoming, essential to the functioning of the parish and builds connections with Hispanics; Sacred Heart Elementary School students Allison, Emily and Joselyn Mortero attend an open house to meet teachers at the Arkansas City parish. While Sacred Heart school is mostly Caucasian, it is becoming increasingly Hispanic, reflecting the parish’s changing demographics; The Most Rev. John Brungardt, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, ordains the Rev. Michael Klag as priest of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pratt.
secondary group consisted of Hispanic members. Using a priest’s cabinet-like authority, he made the council diverse. “I have Vietnamese representation and Hispanic immigrant representation. I have to have that, which upset people,” says Weldon. St. Patrick’s is working to identify “puentes” – bridges – within its ministries. “Some of the ministries don’t have bilingual leaders but have Hispanics who are part of that ministry. (Church members) can contact that Hispanic person,” says Beatrice Keck, the parish’s bilingual secretary, whose parents came from Mexico. “They’re a bridge between the English speakers and the Hispanics.” “The feeling of ownership is a big one, and that goes with the programs,” Spexarth says. Zeroing in on a specific task can help build community. For Brungardt, one thing “that’s been very successful is to get a working group together of the different backgrounds, and meet with them in an open dialogue, and get them to know one another, and get some concrete ideas of what we can do in our parish, right now, right here, with these tensions. … I’ve seen that done very successfully, culminating in … a prayer service together, a youth activity together, a meal together. I’ve seen it bear great, great fruit.”
When his parish council is wrestling with difficult issues, Reilley says, he tries to remind himself that he’s already had the chance to confront the problem. “There are a lot of things that, as a priest, you say, ‘Man, I wish it could be like this, or I wish it could be like it used to be.’ And then you say, ‘OK, it can’t be exactly the way it used to be.’ Because you do this every day, you’ve already mourned that loss,” says Reilley, a recent KLC graduate. “The process of working with the pastoral council and lay leadership is giving them that same information and helping them see where you’re coming from … and then letting them wrestle with it a little bit, letting them think about it, but also being open to their perspectives, too, because they’re going to have a different take on things. And, at times, the heat gets raised a little bit on their part.” Even when seeing differences, there’s the chance to observe common ground. “When I go to the Spanish Mass and the Hispanic families are in church, everybody would be looking around because sometimes the kids are busy and maybe getting out of the pew and wandering around,” Fiorentino says. “You could just see the look on the faces of some of the Anglo parents, of, ‘Oh my goodness, what are they letting their kids do?’ I remind myself that, ‘Omigosh, they’re here every Sunday and they’ve got their kids here every Sunday and they are faithful people and their kids are being raised in the Catholic faith and they’re teaching them good values.’”
Still, change can be unsettling. “At times long-term parishioners feel resentful of the new parishioners. Maybe it’s partly just people that are different. Maybe it’s some racism that they have to deal with in their own heart. Maybe it’s the financial situation, a ‘Well, we built this church and these newcomers coming in,’ and there’s a little resentment there,” Brungardt says. His response is to stir perspective, asking, “What language did your great-grandparents speak?” “In this part of the state, I get all kinds of answers. A lot of German, some French, some Vietnamese, Filipino and, of course, a lot of Spanish now,” he says. “My point is that in Kansas you don’t have to go back very many generations before you find ancestors who spoke a different language. … Even Irish or Welsh or English from England, sometimes those accents are pretty heavy.’’ That realization, he says, can soften and “open up hearts a little bit.”
for those grappling with change to consider a new perspective they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. “Maybe some people wouldn’t agree,” says Fiorentino, “but it really has enlightened us, because sometimes we live in our little box and we’re just doing the same old thing day after day and this has been our life, and our grandparents’ lives and our parents’ lives, so it’s a good thing to see that we have something else to learn upon, a different culture, a different way of life.” Wrestling with loss is an important part of helping people cope with changes required to make progress on adaptive challenge. But speaking to loss often isn’t, in and of itself, enough to move people forward. Energizing others requires inspiring people to embrace the new opportunities that come with changes. “It’s offering new life to the community, younger people, significantly younger people,” says Reilley, the Arkansas City priest, “and a lot of people who are already Catholic who are coming into this parish and want to be part of the parish. That’s a great gift in and of itself.”
Speaking from the heart to the heart of others can be a powerful intervention that creates the space
Discussion Guide 1. How would you characterize the challenges facing the Catholic Church in Kansas? What aspects of challenges are technical? Which are adaptive? 2. Where do you see Catholics utilizing authority in this story? Where do you see them exercising leadership? 3. What similarities do you see between the challenges facing the church and the challenges facing Kansans more broadly? What role do you think religious organizations should have in responding to challenges that affect the common good?
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FAI T H IN KA N S A S CI TY
THE IMPORTANCE OF ENGAGING BEYOND YOUR USUAL CIRCLE
Finding a Connection Point
Helen Stringer, founder and director of Kansas City Oasis, launched the fellowship to help provide her, her family and others with multigenerational support outside the bounds of religious faith.
L EA DERS HI P AN D FAIT H S H A P I NG A CI TY FOR T HE B E T T E R 1/6
Secular organizations provide a way for members to belong to a community outside of traditional faith-based groups. And by working across factions, the nonreligious are finding common cause with the devout in bettering the community. By: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
When Kansas City Oasis, a nonreligious fellowship, first partnered with a religious organization to serve meals to the needy, some Oasis members expressed concern that their secular group could become fractured. Would the separate factions find shared connections? Would they breach one another’s beliefs or boundaries? These days that concern is hard to remember. The religious group – Micah Ministry – and KC Oasis are partners. Members from both groups happily stand alongside one another to serve dinner every Monday to more than 500 needy Kansas Citians. Micah Ministry, an ecumenical outreach effort to the urban poor out of Independence Boulevard Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, has been invited to speak twice at Oasis’ secular Sunday gatherings. The partnership is testament to the leadership skill of engaging with unusual voices, an important aspect of being able to energize others through leadership. The religious and nonreligious can often represent unusual – even discordant – voices to each other. By connecting around a shared goal of improving the community, they have found ways to work together despite their very different beliefs. “We talk about the things we have in common,” says Helen Stringer, who founded and directs KC Oasis. “We do happily partner with a wonderful organization that shares our same hope to actually make a real difference in KC.”
Sharon S. Cantrell, a pastor and social worker who helps coordinate Micah Ministry, says the program is another way for their pastor, the Rev. Lee Chiaramonte, to fulfill their mission. On a recent night, volunteers came from a Catholic and a public school. There were also volunteers from American Sign Language and kindness clubs. A woman wearing a hijab worked alongside Jewish and atheist volunteers. There is no litmus test for volunteering, Cantrell says, just as there is no test for the homeless who come to eat. For Cantrell, the work allows her to practice the gospel. For atheists, they are acting out their humanity, she says. “We all have the same goal, and that’s to treat others with respect and dignity,” she says. KC Oasis distinguishes itself as an alternative to faith-based communities. It’s not an activist group and accepts those who identify as religious, too. The group offers a multigenerational network for those who are nonreligious or don’t fit in a traditional church. The civic commitment is especially important, Stringer believes, because so-called religious “nones” – those who identify as atheist, agnostic or with no religious group – account for 23 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. The center found that more than a third of those “nones” are millennials. “We wanted to provide the same benefits that a lot of people get out of religious communities, and there really isn’t any other way to find it
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unless you want to go to religious communities,” Stringer says. “Religion kind of holds the monopoly on multigenerational support and connection.” It’s part of the reason Stringer helped form Oasis. The Kansas City Atheist Coalition had been around for a long time and served a vital purpose to connect the community, too. But Stringer wanted something more. Stringer, a wife and mother, wanted a place for her family to bond and form regular connections. She wanted to volunteer with a group to make the community a better place. She found a model group and used that to form KC Oasis. The group has evolved into a community with a strong focus on civic engagement. It’s such a high priority for Oasis that it meets every Sunday morning and invites nonprofit agencies and others to talk about their civic work. It’s not unusual for members – the community averages an attendance of 200 to 250 people each week – to get involved after hearing a speaker. Oasis also has a weekly mobile blood bank set up outside so members can donate. Stringer has also created an international network called Oasis Network to help guide others in cities across the country. “Our goal is to figure out how we can live the best life we can and give back as much as we can now that we’ve decided religion isn’t a good fit for us anymore or it was never a good fit,” she says. Micah Ministry is one outlet for giving back. A volunteer coordinator also helps Oasis members connect with agencies that include, among others, The Whole Person, which assists people with disabilities. Stringer believes that the group’s members are stronger together as a community. “When you have an entire group of people who are passionate about something, you can really effect change in the world,” she says. “We’re creating a space for that kind of opportunity to develop.” Stringer points out that Oasis is not anti-religious. The group touts itself a place for “agnostics,
humanists, skeptics, atheists, freethinkers, deists, questioning theists and the like.” “I think for so long we’ve been dividing ourselves rather than finding what we have in common, and working together toward a common good is so much more powerful and effective than just building walls and isolating ourselves,” Stringer says. At the Kansas City Atheist Coalition, President Joshua Hyde said the group, which is focused on advancing atheism, also volunteers with Micah Ministry, a nonprofit that helps homeless pets get adopted (KC Pet Project), a community food network (Harvesters), a domestic violence shelter (Hope House) and more. The work is a way to give back but also dispel myths and stigmas about what it means to be an atheist. It also allows atheists to feel more comfortable coming out in their community, philanthropies or jobs. Hyde says atheists face a lot of misconceptions including that “atheists are just selfish people who disagree with God because they want to be able to sin.” That one still surprises him, but he doesn’t let it bother him. The work with Micah Ministry began after another religious group turned away the coalition from serving a holiday dinner after a history of working together cooperatively. Chiaramonte heard about it and recruited them to help at Micah Ministry. It initially raised a few eyebrows at Micah Ministry, too, Cantrell says. “We had one guy who came to us and said, ‘I’m not going to be able to eat. The atheists are serving.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll miss you,’” Cantrell says. He’s since returned, she says. The partnership is strong, Hyde says, because of their ability to set aside differences and focus on their goals. “We spend so much time around Micah Ministries and people who are glad to have us and don’t really care if we believe in God,” he says.
FA I T H IN KA N S A S CI TY
ANYONE CAN LEAD, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE
Taking Over the Work
Offering youth sports, such as flag football, provides an avenue for Pastor Adrion Roberson to help Eric Jackson and other Kansas City, Kansas, children.
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L EA DERS HI P A N D FAIT H S H A P I NG A CI TY FOR T HE B E T T E R 2/6
Attempting to respond to adaptive challenges in an economically disadvantaged community can be daunting and intimidating – but it’s also the stuff of leadership.
By: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
Pastor Adrion Roberson likes to say that youth sports founded his church in Kansas City, Kansas. He has spent 25 years coaching youth football in Wyandotte County and founded the KC United! Youth Sports Initiative – a league that has grown to 65 teams in several Kansas City-area communities. He launched it so working parents with little access to transportation didn’t have to join suburban leagues 45 minutes away in order to have their children get involved in sports. It’s become a lifeline for many kids. But practices sometimes morph into another kind of session. The beloved coach is a natural counselor. He would stay as long as a child or their parents needed him. “You’d end up after practice one hour, two hours, three hours later,” says Roberson, a Kansas Leadership Center alumnus and a member of its faculty. The children would confide in him. Sometimes it meant reaching out to parents and helping them find jobs. It wasn’t exactly what he signed up for, but he wondered: If he wasn’t ready to step up and do something, who else would? “They come from some pretty dark places. “Some of these kids we’re finding are going through things most adults would commit suicide over. That’s their home life,” he says. “If school is a safe place or if coming with us is a safe place, then so be it.”
In 2013, Roberson founded Destiny! Bible Fellowship Community Church, a small nondenominational church. He had already been moved by his faith to guide young AfricanAmerican men for decades. “Our vision is to be relationally evangelistic. And because of our connection to kids in sports and the arts, (that’s) been our avenue into the homes of the parents,” he says. Roberson’s faith-based civic work is a fitting reminder of just how daunting it can be to lead on adaptive challenges in a community. The formidable social and economic challenges in northeast KCK can’t be addressed with a neighborhood cleanup or fundraiser. They require building deep relationships with people across the community and doing what one can to address underlying problems and inspire others to do the same. But despite the scope of the challenges at hand, Roberson’s story is a reminder that anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere. He is careful not to judge. He doesn’t hold himself up as the perfect model. It wouldn’t do anyone any good. “We don’t hide anything. They know everything about my life, my marriage,” he says. Roberson has been clean for 10 years. “I started out smoking weed, and it ended up being worse. My wife, kids went through 20 years of hell. It was bad,” he says.
These days he uses that story to help others. “What’s crazy is to even be working in the same community where I used to buy dope out of; I used to sell dope out of,” he says. It gives him pause almost daily. “That God would put you right back in the same place where you did your dirt to do better,” he says. It motivates him to create more opportunities for young people. KC United! offers cheerleading, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) camp and a basketball program that begins this winter. The work has gotten the attention of several corporate sponsors and athletes, such as NFL Hall of Fame lineman Will Shields of the Kansas City Chiefs, who have donated money to pay for athletic uniforms and camp. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, built a football field in the urban core and named it after the coach. The honor was nice, he says, mostly because it focused attention on the need for more youth opportunities.
message. His church is one of five in the KC Grind. The group partnered with the police department to address crime. The police agreed to give the pastors a list of hot spots where crime had been especially troublesome. “We make ourselves accessible and available in the community,” Roberson says. “Now our mindset is going beyond the marches. We have to be more hands-on.” They’ve started working more in housing units where they can talk with children. “Our message is hope and value,” he says. “We just try to be there.” When Roberson was growing up, adults were always looking out for him. His village was ready and willing to dial his mom when he stepped out of line. “You knew Ms. Jones could tell on you,” he says. These days Roberson is taking over Ms. Jones’ work.
Roberson says he’s been surprised how much the six-week STEAM camp has been an outlet for promoting peace. He’s using it as a way to encourage young men to value themselves, he says.
Yet for all his work, Roberson admits that he doesn’t have all the answers. It can be overwhelming. A camper this summer told Roberson that his daddy sells drugs.
“If you value yourself, you can value another life,” he says.
“How do you handle that? How do you help to address that when more than likely if dad knew that he was conveying the information to us, we don’t know what the repercussions could be. These are the kinds of situations God puts us in,” he says.
On one particularly impactful day, the campers toured an evidence room at the KCK Police Department. Inside they saw a pair of Nike Air Jordans and a pair of jeans covered in blood. There was also a jersey with bullet holes and a plastic bag with $150. It was all covered in blood. “This 17-year-old was killed over the Jordans,” Roberson says. “His life was worth no more than $450.” They happened to be touring the police station when a police captain was shot and killed. The entire experience left an impression on them all. It also caused Roberson to double down on his
A social worker gave him advice about how to broach the situation. Yet some days Roberson wonders if he’ll ever have the right answer. “It’s a lot of work, but it keeps you going.” But it’s also the exact place that more faith communities will need to be – responding to momentous and disorienting social problems in thoughtful, experimental ways – to fully live out their faith and help communities respond to their most daunting challenges.
Young people have been hanging out at the FireEscape Coffeehouse in Chanute, the oldest faith-based coffeehouse in Kansas, since 1998. It was initially linked to five separate churches, but it has evolved to become more independent.
By: PATSY TERRELL
Faith-based coffee shops in Kansas have become a way for ministries to reach people outside the confines of a traditional church.
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Your daily coffee can be about connections and community, not just caffeine. For faith groups across the state, the power of that connection has provided a great opportunity for meeting people where they are. Over the past decades, faith-based coffeehouses have become increasingly common in Kansas, an example of religious groups attempting to exercise leadership by adapting their ministries to reach people outside the confines of a traditional church. But their very creation – and sustainment – requires leadership, too. Organizers must be able to work across factions, inspire community support and hold to their faith-based purpose to have the impact they desire. The oldest faith-based coffeehouse in Kansas is the FireEscape Coffeehouse in Chanute. It was founded by a group of high school and college students in 1998. Initially connected with five different churches, the coffeehouse is now its own nonprofit with multiple interests, including a radio station. Mark and Marilyn Harms serve as the co-executive directors. Their daughter was one of the students in the founding group. The couple felt inspired to work with the coffeehouse even after their daughter was no longer involved. “We’ve always been passionate about kids,” says Marilyn Harms. “We’re just as passionate today as ever. There’s such a need out there.”
That has remained their mission – to be a sanctuary, a gathering place. When it was started 18 years ago, the idea of a coffeehouse was somewhat new to the area, much less a coffeehouse as a ministry. Today it’s more common, but the motivation remains the same. ‘OUTSIDE THE FOUR WALLS OF A CHURCH’ Around the state, others continue to follow in their footsteps. The idea of starting a coffeehouse ministry is compelling because it can help break down barriers between people of faith and those who do not attend church. In Sedgwick, the Meeting House is just getting started. Damon Young and his wife, Kate, moved there in 2010 and realized there was no common shared space for people. While on a Boy Scout trip, he began brainstorming with a friend who had considered opening a coffee shop with his wife. Eventually they connected with a third couple and began making plans.
The original purpose of the coffeehouse was twofold. The founders wanted to have a place for Christian bands to perform. Beyond that, they wanted a refuge for kids who had nowhere else to go.
They envision a place where people not only can get coffee but connect with services, enjoy art, maybe attend a workshop. Last summer, they engaged the community to ask about needs. They plan to adjust after they’re open to better serve the area. “We don’t want to provide a solution for what we think the need is,” Damon Young says. “Right now, part of it is speculation.”
“It’s a unique ministry,” says Mark Harms. “There’s something about the coffeehouse, a thing about hospitality, a thing about being welcomed. The kids wanted everyone to come in and be comfortable.”
He feels certain connection will play a central role. “I think connection is one of the most powerful things there is,” he says. “To understand connection you have to understand disconnection. We’ve all had times in our lives when we felt
LEFT TO RIGHT: The ministry at the FireEscape Coffeehouse in Chanute, where teens gather to talk, listen or play board games, starts at 8 p.m. on Friday, in the words of co-director Mark Harms; Chase Berthot of Chanute enjoys coffee at the FireEscape, which was a novelty of sorts when a group of high school and college students started the coffeehouse 18 years ago.
disconnected. To help people feel connected is a really worthy cause.” They’ve been working on the project for about a year and a half and plan to have a soft opening this January. “I have an idea to do ministry outside the four walls of a church,” Damon Young says. Although they are not affiliated with a church, the organizers are driven by faith. “The connection we’re all seeking is that we all desire to have that relationship with God,” he says. “Oftentimes people have damaged that. People are skeptical of religion because they’ve been hurt. We didn’t want to be affiliated with one particular church because of that. We wanted it to be part of our backbone, our DNA. That principle of modeling our faith is really important to us.” ‘THIS IS WHY WE DO IT’ That idea is echoed by Robert Palmer, the owner of Norm’s in Newton. Norm’s opened in 2011 as a coffee shop run by a church. Four years later, the church wanted to move in a different direction and allowed Palmer to turn it into a for-profit, stand-alone business. He added Back Alley Pizza to the building to make the business more viable, but his purpose remained the
same. “It’s not what a person does that makes something secular or religious,” Palmer says. “It’s why we do it.” He had the idea for a coffee shop in the mid 90s. It was an odd concept for people then, especially when partnered with a church, but he couldn’t give up on it. It’s become his way of sharing his commitment to his faith with others in a subtle and less traditional way. “I realized I would never fit into the traditional pastoral role of being in an office in a church, spending a lot of time in my study and getting ready for the next Sunday,” he says. “Being able to meet people and greet people and network with people and create a community of connection just fit me.” The restaurant business is demanding, and Palmer and his family make it work by centering their social life around Norm’s. In the case of the FireEscape, Marilyn and Mark Harms have made it a focus of their lives, particularly Marilyn Harms. “This has been my full-time job,” she says. Her passion for the project has lasted through two locations and 400 bands. It has been a lesson in faith and also in the power of inspiring
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LEFT TO RIGHT: Matthew Oliphant plays a banjolele – a combination of a banjo and ukulele – at the FireEscape, which places an emphasis on making connection; The FireEscape sits in downtown Chanute, a community of about 10,000 people in southeast Kansas. Dozens of similar faith-based coffeehouses are scattered throughout the state; Mark Harms, who directs the FireEscape with his wife, Marilyn, talks with a Chanute teenager about a problem at school. The Harmses have devoted considerable effort to the coffeehouse’s success over the years and want to build a group that can take it to the next phase of its existence.
a common purpose within the community. For the first few years, she says, they continually seemed to have about $250 in the bank. There was always just enough money. When the owner of the first building they were using for free decided to sell, they had to find another location. They raised $98,000 in six weeks in a community of 9,000 people to purchase the current 20,000-square-foot complex. Their money comes from donations, mostly by individuals. Marilyn Harms says they no longer worry about it, because it seems to always show up when they need it. When they were thinking about starting a radio station, there were three of them who knew it was going to take about $10,000 to get it off the ground. They put the idea on the shelf and decided it just couldn’t happen right then. That day in the mail they got a $10,000 anonymous gift. When they were first moving into the building they now own, an espresso machine was in an auction. They had $250 to spend and had no idea the machine retailed for $7,000 new. The bidding started at $4,000, but there were no takers. Then the auctioneer tried $1,000 and there were no takers. Marilyn Harms bid $100. Someone was bidding against them and then
asked why they wanted it. When they explained, the bidder dropped out. The final cost was $250. “The coffeehouse is a story of faith, prayer and miracles,” says Mark Harms. ESTABLISHING A SHARED VISION Miracles seem to be a hallmark of the work and faith that allows the proprietors to take things as they come. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” Young says. But being able to work across factions to co-create something is a crucial part of the work. All three of the couples involved in the Sedgwick project had considered something like this, but it hadn’t worked out. Only when they came together were they able to make it happen. “The seeds were planted previously, and when we all got together, God started to water them,” Young says. But that has its own challenges. The other two couples didn’t know each other until they were brought together in this project. “It’s always a challenge to bring people together who don’t have a ton of shared equity with one another,” Young says. “It’s a challenge to build that shared vision that you can all agree on, and at the end of the day make sure you’re meeting a community need.”
Faith helped serve as the common denominator for the couples even when they saw things a bit differently. Conversations have helped them solidify their approach, with an understanding they will adjust if needed once they are open and interacting. “Each couple came at it with a different perspective, but we all agreed there was a need,” Young says. ADAPTING OVER TIME Adjustments and transitions have been crucial to the success of the other coffeehouses. But even with changes, proprietors have retained their focus on the purpose of living out their faith through their endeavors. The biggest transition has probably been at Norm’s, where it went from a nonprofit sponsored by a church to a traditional business that now employs 15-18 people. “It has been quite a journey of transitions and learning how to make this work,” says Palmer. “It was all about sustainability.” Being in business does have some perks. When he was working with volunteers, he did all the drudge work himself. It took him awhile to adjust to the idea that employees should have those tasks in their job descriptions. The biggest hurdle has been his own thought process. He’s had to expand his own sense of how the coffeehouse connects to inspiring faith
in others. “It hasn’t been a struggle practically as much as it has been philosophically for me,” he says. “To be a ministry in my mind had always been a nonprofit structure.” He felt like he was letting go of the ministry side of it when he went to a business model. He wasn’t sure how to mix them, how the mission could continue. But he realized he wasn’t alone. “This business of missions isn’t just us. It’s a movement, and it’s huge,” he says. “That really helped us.” In the end, he was able to accept the loss of the clarity that a nonprofit mission gave him and accept the idea that he could spread his faith and be a business owner at the same time. “We are missionaries no matter what we are doing or where we are. We don’t categorize our lives as: This is church, and I’m a different person here than I am there. I am first and foremost a Christian. I am a pastor. I am a Christian business owner. I’m a Christian father. I’m a Christian husband. If a business owner is a Christian, then everything they do is ministry. To think of it in those terms does take a little bit of training,” says Palmer. Palmer’s faith gives him a sense of not needing to know what the future holds. “I’ve never felt like I was released to leave. I feel like this is the path we’re on. I could do it for many, many years or we could let it go,” says Palmer.
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USE WORDS, IF NECESSARY For the Harmses, the time to let go may be coming soon. Mark Harms retired from his medical practice last year, and they’re considering the next phase of life. “It’s happening sooner rather than later,” he says. But they still have work to do there and part of that is building a group that can take the coffeehouse to the next phase of its life, too. “It’s still our baby,” he says. They now have three employees and a budget of about $100,000. “When you start growing, you can’t expect people to do a quality job unless you offer employment,” says Mark. Getting and maintaining volunteers has been the biggest challenge for them, especially for weekend evenings. “People don’t want to give up their weekends,” says Mark. “That’s when our ministry starts – at 8 p.m. on Friday.” They know it’s unlikely they’ll find another couple who wants to devote as much energy to it as they have, and they realize things can’t stay the same forever. “We’ve always been agreeable to having things change,” says Marilyn Harms. “Things don’t ever develop if you stay the same.” So they’re making efforts to show others the way. “This is our ministry. But it’s not ours, it’s God’s,” says Mark Harms. “It’s going to be hard to close the doors and walk away. I’m trying to lead by example, bringing the next person in. We’re looking for people who see something missing and want to fill the gap.” That is a central theme for the keepers of these businesses – an unmet need for gathering, community, connection. By focusing on establishing connections
with other people – talking with them and not at them – they’ve been able to effectively start where the people they hope to reach are. “Having a fuller life can only happen by the connections we have,” says Palmer. “A wild thing happens – when you put a cup in someone’s hand, they slow down. They will communicate. Then when you eat together you’re sharing an experience that’s fundamental in our lives as human beings. If you create a space where people want to be a part of it, it does offer those relationships.” That’s what Young is hoping for in Sedgwick. “This is about the value of gathering together, slowing down,” he says. “I think a space does that to some degree if you can just let people relax in a cozy environment and get to know them. If you build the relationships, who knows where it goes from there?” In Newton, Palmer says, they look for employees who have a servant heart. They are trained to try to interact with customers at least three times. “It’s not always the amount of time that allows people to build relationships. It’s small touches with people that matter,” he says. It serves all his purposes. “On the business side, it’s customer service. On the ministry side, it’s the heart of serving other people. It’s one and the same.” Norm’s has nothing “churchy,” says Palmer. The ministry comes in the form of interaction. “Our main goal is to share through action Christ’s love for people.” It’s a similar goal for the FireEscape, according to Mark Harms. “Our motto is: ‘Preach the gospel every day. If necessary, use words.’”
Discussion Guide 1. What do you think makes starting a coffeehouse an act of leadership? What leadership challenges are organizers responding to? 2. How would you describe the leadership challenges that faith-based coffeehouse proprietors face? 3. What other interventions can you think of that embody a start-where-they-are mentality? What do you think makes it hard to start where others are? 4. How might you more effectively start where others are in your leadership efforts?
Connection First: Leadership Lessons from Faith-Based Coffeehouses in Kansas
START WHERE THEY ARE.
By putting hospitality and connection first, coffeehouses help break down barriers that separate people of faith from those who aren’t eager to step inside the four walls of a church.
INSPIRE A COLLECTIVE PURPOSE.
For coffeehouses to be effective, they have to inspire support from others in the community. In Chanute, the Harmses were able to raise $98,000 in six weeks to purchase a new home for the FireEscape Coffeehouse.
WORK ACROSS FACTIONS.
You can’t accomplish anything without being able to work well with others. Despite their different perspectives, the three couples launching the Meeting House in Sedgwick have been able to work through challenges, creating a shared vision through conversation and anchoring to their faith-based goal of meeting others’ needs.
HOLD TO PURPOSE.
When Norm’s in Newton transitioned from a nonprofit to a business, owner Robert Palmer found a way to run his business and express his faith at the same time.
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FA I T H IN KA N S A S CI TY
LEADERSHIP IS RISKY
Looking for the Next Leap
The Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the nation’s largest Methodist congregation with a main campus in Leawood and three satellite campuses, insists that civic work is a part of the congregation’s mission.
L EA DERS HI P A N D FAIT H S H A P I NG A CI TY FOR T HE B E T T E R 3/6
The pastor of a growing, successful church in Johnson County constantly looks for openings to enlarge its community impact. By: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
When Pastor Adam Hamilton embarked on a series of sermons about Moses last year, he knew the gravity of his message.
“Are there some of you that God might be calling to be part of our foster care ministry? Or our adoption ministry?” he asked.
Hamilton knew his call to action had the power to change the lives of children and families forever.
Leadership, as the Kansas Leadership Center tells its conference participants, is risky. And Hamilton’s sermon was a risk other pastors might have shied away from. In fact, it was a risk to call on congregants to follow suit and consider taking more risks themselves.
So he started at the beginning. Inside Leawood’s United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the nation’s largest Methodist congregation, Hamilton reminded church members that Moses was adopted – rescued – by Pharaoh’s daughter. “She becomes the savior of the savior of Israel,” he said. Hamilton also paused to acknowledge the hundreds of members who had been adopted, had lived in foster care or had been helped by others. It included his son-in-law, who had been taken in by his fourth-grade teacher, who found the pupil sleeping on his doorstep. “He calls the boy’s dad and says: ‘Do you think I could help with your son?’” Hamilton said. Hamilton also told his flock that he was praying for his daughters. He was praying that someone was nurturing the men his daughters would someday marry. Hamilton’s call to action that August morning wasn’t simple. It wasn’t pounding nails at Habitat for Humanity, buying school supplies or taking on one of the myriad projects the church has become known for. It was far more profound.
Those willing to take a chance could take comfort that they wouldn’t be doing so alone. Hamilton reminded members that the church has resources and monthly support programs for families willing to do the work. “We have a vision of hundreds of our people adopting children or becoming foster parents,” he says later. Civic work is not a lofty expectation at the church. It’s a requirement that is clearly defined upfront. “We just say: You can’t join the church unless you’re committed to serving outside the walls of our church,” Hamilton says. It comes down to a fundamental core belief. “For us as Christians, the ideal is the kingdom of God – this place where justice and beauty and truth reign. Where people love their neighbors and they love their enemies and they love God,” Hamilton explained. “So we tell folks: You’re really not living into being a Christian unless you’re out there with your sleeves rolled up looking for the person who is sick or hungry or naked or in prison and doing something about it.”
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It’s Hamilton’s job to help sketch out a vision for creating that change, and remind people of it. Church of the Resurrection organizes large volunteer teams to fix homes, serve dinners at soup kitchens, work internationally and much more. Church members helped after Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters. Members work in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Russia and Honduras. They’ve built long-term relationships with six regional elementary schools, where nearly 100 percent of the students live in poverty. Members buy and read books at the schools, tutor, paint and purchase classroom supplies. This fall they bought 2,647 pieces of school clothing, distributed 25,000 books and outfitted 1,646 children with all of their school supplies. Church of the Resurrection has built relationships with city staff and nonprofits to determine where its congregation can do the most good. They meet with the Mid-America Regional Council during strategic planning to learn about poverty and other factors that could guide their civic commitments. When the church celebrated its 25th anniversary on Oct. 25, 2015, its members had completed 28,680 hours of community service – the goal was 25,000 – in 25 days. “This was a stretch for us, but reflects a high level of mobilization that is expected (of) our people, and it was a great way to celebrate our anniversary by living out the vision of working with others to transform the community,” says Dan Entwistle, the church’s managing executive director and a Kansas Leadership Center alumnus. The church also doesn’t shy away from tackling society’s riskiest subjects. As racial tension has increased, members have met with urban churches to talk about their experiences and learn from one another. One meeting allowed congregants to meet with members of St. James United Methodist Church, which is located in the urban core of Kansas City, Missouri.
The group is led by the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, the son of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II. “A large part of it is getting to know each other, hearing each other’s stories,” Hamilton says. Yet even good deeds have risks. Hamilton points out that church members get energized by the work and can easily forget that they don’t always know what’s best for others. His church works hard to get direction and build consensus from those they seek to help before work starts. “We don’t have all the answers. We’re not the great suburban army of saviors. We’re just people who are willing to offer whatever we can to be of service,” he says. In an increasingly skeptical society, Church of the Resurrection has been criticized for its new $90 million church building going up in Leawood. Hamilton expected that. He knows they’re known as “that big church in Johnson County.” But he also thinks that critics are hard-pressed to insult the congregation’s integrity when they realize its members donated more than 120,000 volunteer hours outside church walls in 2015 and serve as the largest source of the metro area’s blood and food donations. Or when they learn it gives every dime of Christmas Eve collections – when everyone is asked to give as much as they spent on their own families – to local and international charities that benefit children. Even though Church of the Resurrection has achieved impressive successes as a faith community, it’s not one that’s willing to rest on its laurels. But that continued push rests on a willingness to take on new risks in how it tries to serve the community. “Let’s be the church that’s not just big,” Hamilton tells members. “Let’s be the church that’s big-hearted. Let’s be the church that’s known for serving in the community, not for the size of our buildings or membership.”
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FA I T H IN KA N S A S CI TY
LEADERSHIP IS AN ACTIVITY, NOT A POSITION
A Gathering Spot for Action
Jill Maidhof, director of Jewish experiences at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, says civic commitment is an intrinsic part of being Jewish.
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L EA DERS HI P A N D FAIT H S H A P I NG A CI TY FOR T HE B E T T E R 4/6
Once a safe space for immigrants to learn, Kansas City’s Jewish Community Center now fosters the activity of leadership “all over the place.” By: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
Browse the list of summer youth camps at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and parents are bound to find something to suit just about any childhood personality. There are classic youth activities for softball players, theater performances for emerging actors and trendy Lego camps for the STEM-obsessed. The Jewish Community Center, situated in Overland Park near Sprint’s world headquarters, tweaks offerings to keep modern campers engaged. But one thing it hasn’t changed after decades of hosting camps is an underlying focus on good deeds and giving back to the community. The camp guide makes it clear: Values are part of the lesson. By middle school, one special camp puts community service front and center. Ma’Asim Tovin camp, which means “good works” in Hebrew, allows campers to volunteer in the community every morning and participate in recreational programs in the afternoon. “They’ve gone to Harvesters (Community Food Network). They worked in a garden whose produce goes to a food distribution center. They work with senior adults, children. They’ve been to the zoo,” says Jill Maidhof, director of Jewish life and learning. “So they’re all over the place – all with the idea that we give to the community. We are part of this community, and we give to the community.” The work of Maidhof, a 2014 alumna of the Kansas Leadership Center, and the Jewish Community
Center embody the Kansas Leadership Center principle that “leadership is an activity, not a position.” By inspiring and empowering those who walk through the doors to take action, the center works to make a sizable positive impact in a Kansas City region where Jews number about 19,000, or just more than 1 percent of the population, according to the online Jewish Virtual Library. Younger campers help out by conducting drives, be it for toilet paper, food or school supplies. It’s important, Maidhof says, that children learn the importance of giving back for the greater good. “The Jewish Community Center has been in Kansas City for over 100 years,” Maidhof says. “Throughout those years we’ve taken very seriously the (words) ‘Jewish,’ the ‘community’ and the ‘center’ as a place of gathering.” At the beginning of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants came to the center to study English and learn American customs. It was a safe place to learn while their children were cared for. “They were not burdens on society. We did our best to help them become contributing members in America as comfortably, happily and quickly as possible,” Maidhof says. These days the center offers a helping hand to all refugees as it seeks to build understanding and compassion across faiths. The civic commitment is an intrinsic part of being Jewish, Maidhof says.
Inside her office on a recent sunny day, Maidhof proudly wears a T-shirt with the Hebrew words “love your neighbor as yourself.” “I’ve been here 30 years. And this is an expression we live,” she says. “No phony baloney. This is not poppycock here.” The community center is open to all. About half the members are not Jewish. The center houses a state-of-the-art workout facility, swimming pool, day care, art and cultural programs, and more. “That diversity only enriches us,” she says. “It broadens our thinking.” Sometimes it means the center sends members into the community to serve others. Other times the center hosts programs and invites the public to use its facility. It is home to several collaborative performances. For the past several years, the center has partnered with Johnson County’s Theatre in the Park on a production. This year audiences could see “Mary Poppins” at the air-conditioned community center theater. Or they could watch the same performance outside at the Theatre in the Park, which is organized by the county. It was the same production with the same actors, but by varying the venue it allowed different audiences to see the production.
“By doing that, we just use community resources more effectively,” Maidhof says. The center has also become an established place for the public to hear about social justice issues, be it through theater performances, art gallery openings or ecumenical services. “We use our various venues to forward a social justice agenda,” Maidhof says. The work is far from easy. The doors remain open to the public even after a white supremacist targeted the center in 2014 and killed two people in the parking lot. The victims were on their way to a regional youth singing contest. A third person was killed in a nearby Jewish retirement community. The tragedy strengthened the community center’s resolve and commitment. It promotes and helps host events for SevenDays, an effort to promote peace and understanding that was initiated after the shootings. The center also built a memorial on campus with unsolicited donations received after the shooting. A youth group from Georgia on a cross-country trip recently stopped by to sing at the memorial. “We want this to become a destination,” Maidhof says, “and a place of comfort and inspiration for people.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City provided a safe space for immigrants to study English and learn American customs. Today the center in Overland Park is open to all, and only about half of its members are Jewish.
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DEALING WITH TOUGH ISSUES
ENGAGING IN A D E B AT E ON SACRED GROUND Matthew Vines participates in a conversation about gays and the church at the Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park last fall. (PHOTO BY DAVE KAUP)
Wichita native seeks to build acceptance for gays and gay marriage within evangelical Christianity by starting where others are and holding to purpose.
By: LAURA RODDY
Matthew Vines has chosen a pretty lofty name for his fledgling organization: The Reformation Project. But then again, his goals are ambitious enough to match it. The Reformation Project references the formation of Protestantism in the 16th century, and one of its foundations is the belief that the Bible alone is the authority on moral matters. Vines’ goal is to use scriptural arguments to build acceptance for gays and gay marriage within evangelical Christianity. “You can both fully affirm the authority of the Bible and fully affirm same-sex relationships and LGBT in the church,” he says. It’s a line of inquiry that faces significant resistance from other biblical scholars, who contend that Vines’ reasoning is in error. Some say his approach rests on long disproven arguments. But the fact that he is using scriptural arguments to make his case is significant. The 26-year-old is engaging in the debate on sacred ground for the very evangelical Christians he hopes to persuade. For evangelicals, the Bible as written is the final authority on doctrine and faith, and trumps changes in culture and human authority.
By basing his arguments on interpretations of the Bible, he is trying to speak to Christians as a Christian. By taking this risk, he is making an effort to start where others are rather than try to have them come to him. And when he speaks, Vines is careful to hold to purpose and manage himself by using precise, respectful language that avoids assuming motive, such as saying someone who is against same-sex relationships is anti-gay. “We have enough polarization in our society as it is, and it’s far too easy to fall into the pattern of demonizing people who disagree with you,” he says. “I will inevitably be somewhat polarizing simply by virtue of who I am and what my goals are, but I don’t want to be needlessly inflammatory, needlessly offensive.” Vines came to his perspective through a crisis in conscience after a period of reflection. He recognizes that changing hearts and minds would be an incremental process at best. He grew up in Wichita attending a large, conservative Christian church where his parents were elders. “Church was really the central part of our lives and so many of our friendships,” he says. Homosexuality “was not a conversation. It was just kind of accepted that it was wrong.”
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When he went off to study at Harvard University, Vines met more gay people and joined a Christian fellowship. He became conflicted and ultimately convinced that acceptance was an issue of justice and human dignity. Then about six months after that, he asked himself if he was gay. “The answer was painfully obvious but also terrifying because there was no precedent of gay people back home, either in my family or in our church,” he says. “And yet, it’s not really something you can wish away. It is what it is.”
Vines left Harvard partway through his sophomore year to devote himself fully to scholarship on the Bible and homosexuality. He also came out to his parents. His mom immediately accepted him and “was less focused on the granular.” His dad was very loving but initially wanted him to change. They began to explore the issue together through Bible study and other readings, with his dad ultimately changing his views and accepting homosexuality. Vines’ experience with his dad taught him that many evangelicals need a reason to re-examine their beliefs. Knowing and caring about a gay person can be the first step to looking at scripture with a new set of eyes. Jim Brownson, a New Testament professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, who is the author of “Bible, Gender, Sexuality,” agrees. He says the single most important question in how a person interprets the Bible’s messages on homosexuality is, “Do you know and care about someone who is gay or lesbian?” “It takes a lot of work to develop a new paradigm,” Brownson says. “People have these deeply intuitive perceptions, and unless something disrupts that, they are not going to be open to interpretation.” As Vines began pursuing his own scholarship, he reached out to Brownson. “He came up for a weekend and had just nonstop questions,”
says Brownson, who began studying the issue when his own son came out as gay. Vines began to find his footing as an advocate – making his scriptural case in an hourlong speech in 2012 to a Wichita church congregation that he posted to YouTube, where it went viral. He formed The Reformation Project in 2013 and also wrote a book, “God and the Gay Christian.” His vision is for a global church that is “fully LGBT affirming.” “The first step is visibility,” Vines says. “That is the biggest obstacle – to even open up the conversation about this topic in a lot of churches.” The undertaking is long-term in the extreme. “Asking them to reassess their deeply held religious beliefs does not happen overnight in most cases,” Vines says. At the same time, the slow pace of change can be incredibly frustrating for him. “I still get messages every day from people who are being brutalized by their Christian families or church,” he says. “We see every day people who are being crushed under the weight of teachings that are wrong and dehumanizing.” Still, he believes that most Christians are rooted in the values of kindness and love and that their intention is not to be harmful. “I think the biggest problem in the conservative church is not hatred toward LGBT people,” Vines says. “I think the biggest problem is a failure of compassion.” Vines uses The Reformation Project as a pathway for people to discover a more compelling interpretation of the Scriptures and to provide resources for people in conservative and evangelical faith communities to reassess their beliefs. Brownson has spoken at several Reformation Project conferences and has witnessed Vines’ leadership efforts firsthand. Brownson believes that Vines has been successful by drawing on three types of intelligence: academic, emotional and relational.
With the academic, “he’s incredibly bright – he’s able to master a large body of material. That in and of itself is not enough to be a good leader.” On an emotional level, Brownson says, Vines is responsive to context and has “great radar to sense what the climate is.” And on a relational level, Brownson says, Vines has held steady in a lightning-rod position. “He’s very active in affirming, thanking, expressing, appreciating, making people feel welcome,”
Brownson says. “He has been pretty good at being able to respond nondefensively.” Vines keeps plugging away – fundraising, organizing conferences and launching a leadership cohort each year. “I still find the message of Scripture, of the Gospel, of the teachings of Jesus to be the anchor of my life,” Vines says. “For me, walking away does not feel like an option because it would leave a huge void in my sense of self.”
The Rev. Roger Gustafson, bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, greets Matthew Vines as the Rev. Brian Hiortdahl looks on. Vines’ efforts include fundraising, organizing conferences and launching a leadership cohort each year through The Reformation Project, a nonprofit he founded in 2013. (PHOTO BY DAVE KAUP)
Discussion Guide 1. Think of examples of when you have tried to “start where others are” in exercising leadership. What did you attempt to do? How would you evaluate your efforts? 2. How important is it to speak the language and values of the people you are trying to reach? How do you know when you are being effective at it? How do you know when you are failing? 3. What makes managing self and holding to purpose difficult when having tough conversations? What does being effective look like in those situations?
As he prepares for a sermon at the Mount Hope Federated Church, Pastor Rob Schmutz devotes himself to prayer. After giving up his job and a long-term relationship with the United Methodist Church over an issue â€“ homosexuality in the church â€“ that he felt strongly about, Schmutz has become a traveling preacher and evangelist.
DEALING WITH TOUGH ISSUES
THE OTHER SIDE OF A STA N D Speaking to loss is an important but difficult part of leadership. A pastorâ€™s decision to leave the United Methodist Church raises important questions about working through the issues that divide us.
By: CHRIS GREEN
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In the frontier days of the Methodist church, clergy would travel by horseback to find settlers, form faith gatherings, establish churches and then often go on to serve multiple churches in sparsely populated, rural areas. These ministers, who came to be called “circuit riders” or “saddlebag preachers,” carried little with them beyond their drive to serve and often traveled long distances, sometimes making their circuits over a period of weeks.
Rob Schmutz doesn’t travel to churches by horseback (but he does ride a Harley). And he’s no longer a pastor in the United Methodist Church after splitting from the denomination in 2015, when members of the Great Plains Conference he was a part of approved a petition “acknowledging diverse beliefs around homosexuality.” Schmutz felt strongly that he could not allow what had become the conference’s voice, as reflected in the petition, to be his voice. But he still finds inspiration in the example of the circuit riders who “truly risked everything” to put the church on the map. “I’ve always had a heart for evangelism,” says Schmutz, an Abilene native who lives near the small Reno County city of Haven and is a 2010 alumnus of the Kansas Leadership Center’s Leadership & Faith program. Schmutz took a big risk himself, giving up his job and long-term relationship with the Methodist church over an issue he felt strongly about. Such acts, although still rare, have been popping up across the country as religious institutions grapple with how to reconcile long-established church doctrine with growing societal and religious acceptance of homosexuality.
It’s riven people from their denominations on both sides of the debate. As detailed in a podcast by the author Malcolm Gladwell, a few years ago a retired Mennonite pastor, Chester Wenger, in Pennsylvania lost his credentials because he officiated at the wedding of his gay son and partner. Despite their very different views on the issue, Schmutz and Wenger are both examples of casualties in an ongoing battle over whether the Christian church’s highest values should be acceptance of gay Christians or rigorous adherence to deeply rooted interpretations of Scripture. The debate is creating important leadership questions for Christians and other people of faith. What is the direction that our churches should be headed? What are we willing to sacrifice in the name of what we believe in? And what, if anything, do we owe the people who end up standing on the other side from us? A MODERN CIRCUIT RIDER
One could argue that Schmutz, an animated man who looks comfortable in blue jeans, mirrors a contemporary incarnation of the circuit riders he
admires as a traveling speaker and evangelist for the Church of the Nazarene, or traversing the state to preach at revivals through an evangelism ministry he started called Watchmen Evangelism. He preached and participated in an event last summer for several days called Impact 2016. It sought to build unity in Comanche County and included efforts to help residents in Coldwater and Protection with remodeling projects and a food drive for the needy. From Schmutz’s perspective, fostering this kind of spiritual renewal is crucial for improving the overall health of communities.
Schmutz went on to have a salvation experience, and the faith group that started in his cabin became the Alida Evangelical Church, which would ultimately become the Alida United Methodist Church that stands about two miles west of Milford Lake today. But despite his family ties, Schmutz found himself struggling with a self-destructive lifestyle of alcohol and drug abuse in college. He says he even engaged in anti-religious behavior by stealing and stashing in his closet the Gideon Bibles being distributed on the campus of Kansas State University.
He’s driven by the opportunity to go out and preach where the people who need hope and Jesus’ love are. It’s an attitude based on the idea that the people who could most benefit from faith are often the ones who are least likely to set foot in a Sunday service.
But he converted to Christianity in 1989, and ever since “has had a passion for sharing the good news of forgiveness, freedom and deliverance that is available to anyone through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” according to his online biography statement.
“We can’t just sit back,” Schmutz says. “The mission is to find the people who need Jesus.” It’s a perspective influenced by Schmutz’s own story of faith. Schmutz grew up in the United Methodist Church, and his family ties to the institution date back to his great-great grandfather, Nicklaus Schmutz, who homesteaded in Dickinson County and was an Army supply wagon driver in the late 1860s. His ancestor found Jesus because of a friendship he formed with an evangelical denomination circuit rider named Henry Matwil. The evangelical denomination was predominantly German-speaking and would eventually become part of the United Brethren denomination in the 1940s, which in turn merged with the United Methodist Church in 1968.
After graduating from K-State, he completed his seminary education and went to serve churches in rural, urban and suburban areas, including Butler County.
Nicklaus Schmutz helped save Matwil after he tried to cross Chapman Creek at flood stage (Schmutz says the reverend had apparently received bad instructions from settlers who didn’t want him meddling in their lives). The two men formed a friendship that led to Matwil starting a faith group in great-great grandfather Schmutz’s log cabin (on a site that now sits beneath Milford Lake). The homesteading
Schmutz later began working with a struggling family that had relocated to Park City, experiences that brought him in touch with the local populace and led to laying the groundwork for the planting of a church in the community. It was a process that involved prayer walking, surveying, assessing the community, starting small groups, participating in community outreach opportunities and selecting a ministry location, according to the church’s website. Even before the church could open, it was decided that opening a preschool would be an effective way of ministering to children and families. The church started holding services with Schmutz as pastor in February 2012, and grew from 12 people to 300. “We started with nothing,” Schmutz says.
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Pastor Rob Schmutz talks with Anita Hempe of Mount Hope. Schmutz says he doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the church, but he hopes that Christians can live out their faith and influence the world.
AN ABRUPT TURN
In June 2015, however, Schmutz’s life and work took a sharp turn. United Methodist representatives from Kansas and Nebraska were gathered in Wichita’s Century II convention hall for their denomination’s annual regional conference. Those assembled were being asked to weigh in on Petition 7. It sought to strike references in church doctrine to homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teachings and eliminate restrictions against gays serving as ministers in the church. It would also lift restrictions on pastors conducting same-sex marriages. Proponents talked about the struggles of teenagers who were gay to find a home within the church and being excluded from being married. Opponents, including Schmutz, argued against the change, with some countering that the church would be conforming to society rather than transforming it. When the resolution passed 493-363, Schmutz handed in his credentials for being a United Methodist pastor to then-Bishop Scott Jones and left the assembly. While others walked out of the meeting, Schmutz was the only person to formally resign his position and leave the church.
For Schmutz and his family, the decision carried profound consequences. Not only had he severed his relationship with the church he had served for two decades, he was also giving up his pastor’s post in the church he had planted in Park City. With a wife and four kids to support, he had the feeling of having “jumped off the cliff with my whole family.” But the issue of whether the church should be accepting of the practice of homosexuality was that important to him. Supporters of Petition 7 argued that church was falling behind the culture across the world. For Schmutz, the words of the Scripture admonishing homosexuality are clear. It wasn’t an action he took in anger, however. He disagreed with the petition, but he wasn’t upset with the church. He says he didn’t even think twice about trying to get his church to follow him by encouraging it to break with the Methodist Church. “My heart was for a revitalization of the denomination,” Schmutz says. “I could never take the church.” The stories others told about his decision varied. Some, even a pastor who disagreed with him, considered it a principled stand. But for others,
including those who sent angry messages to him, Schmutz was simply reinforcing a longstanding prejudice against gays in the church. In the months since, Schmutz has found a home in the Church of the Nazarene. In addition to his traveling evangelism ministry, he’s also started a partnership called Ministry Outdoor Adventures, which takes pastors on hunting and fishing retreats as a way of helping them take care of themselves, an area of need for many churches.
or Wenger leaves the church, it’s potentially an unacknowledged loss for them and their denominations.
Meanwhile, the vote that changed so much for Schmutz has yet to shift very much in the United Methodist denomination. Approving the petition changed nothing about the church’s operations. It simply advanced the petition for consideration by the church’s general conference the following year. But the denomination’s bishops elected to hold off on discussions of sexuality at that gathering in favor of letting a committee study the issue.
“What we are witnessing in the evangelical movement right now is a winnowing – a parting of ways,” Burk wrote. “It rightly grieves us because no one relishes divisions or departures from God’s truth. But it is all important that we see what this means. This division is real and necessary for anyone turning away from what the Scriptures teach on marriage and sexuality. And all sides would do well not to obscure just how high the stakes really are.”
Despite the big changes he’s experienced, Schmutz is among those with hope. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the church, but I do think there’s hope,” Schmutz says. ”That hope is in the Word of God and in living what it means to be truly incarnational and to be ‘Jesus with skin on’ in a lost and broken world.” In the meantime, the issue remains divisive, and it’s hard to find many examples where Christians are effectively bridging the divide. Some speak passionately and persuasively on behalf of their viewpoint or take brave stands and sacrifice for their beliefs. But it’s rare to see someone trying to advance their cause while at the same time acknowledging the losses their opponents might be experiencing. When someone like Schmutz
In a recent blog post, Denny Burk, a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, characterized division as being inevitable on issues such as gay marriage in the evangelical community.
Healing divides is neither simple nor easy, nor does it take place on a convenient, easy timeframe. In some cases, it may be difficult for divides to ever fully heal. That said, using one’s beliefs as an excuse to resort to anger or to withhold empathy stands in stark opposition to the tenants of mercy and forgiveness. It is our abilities as human beings to listen, be compassionate and even forgive those whose stands trigger us – be it Schmutz’s or Wenger’s – that remain some of the most powerful resources we have. It may not change our opinions, but the journey might help us change ourselves for the better.
Discussion Guide 1. Have you ever had the experience of being in the minority? How do you respond when you deal with others who are in the majority? 2. Think about a time when someone you know suffered a loss. How did you acknowledge that loss and help him or her deal with it? 3. What makes dealing with the losses of others hard in leadership on an issue you’re passionate about? Is it even harder to acknowledge losses in leadership than it is in everyday life?
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FAI T H IN KA N S A S CI TY
YOUR PURPOSE MUST BE CLEAR
Answering the Call
Chris Winn, lead pastor of the Community Life Church, has become a familiar face to civic, police and fire officials in Shawnee. Winn helped launch the City/Church Partnership a few years ago to help serve the community.
L EA DERS HI P AN D FAIT H SH A P I NG A C I TY FOR T HE B E T T E R 5/6
By stepping forward, faith groups have helped lead the way for neighbors to help neighbors in Shawnee.
By: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
When a storm blew through Shawnee this summer, it left downed trees and branches in an elderly man’s yard. He had neither the financial nor the physical means to clean up. Many suburban codes don’t make exceptions when it comes to unkempt yards. But in Shawnee, the city has a backup plan thanks to a compassionate group of religious leaders who formed the City/Church Partnership a few years ago. Chris Winn, lead pastor at Community Life Church in Shawnee, got the call. A team of religious volunteers went out with chainsaws, built a bonfire with the wood and fixed lunch. “They burned all of it while they roasted wieners,” Winn says. They did something similar for a soldier deployed to Iraq and again when someone needed their shutters fixed. Winn helped launch the partnership after attending a Shawnee Chamber leadership class. He laughs at the awkward start. Winn was among a group that went to a former Shawnee mayor to ask a basic question: “How can we serve you?”
Winn recalls the mayor’s skeptical expression. It portrayed a man wondering, “What do you want? What are you mad about?” “After an hour or so of conversation, (the mayor) started to relax and realized we had no idea. We just had influence over thousands of people,” Winn says. “Our whole purpose was to engage the people sitting in our pews to serve in our city.” The partnership’s effort is an example of one of KLC’s five core leadership principles in action – “your purpose must be clear.” By anchoring their efforts in a desire to energize congregants into living out their faith through service, organizers have allowed groups to connect with others and shape their community for the better. Eventually religious leaders throughout the city started creating a system whereby the city could enlist their help. Church members took emergencypreparedness classes, donated blankets to the fire department and offered their sanctuaries as temporary shelters. They also offered to help residents who met hardship requirements with code violations. The city and religious leaders created catalyst teams and enlisted key people – the mayor, police chief, fire chief, code administrators and more – to meet regularly. The group identified four keys areas of assistance: emergency
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preparedness, education, community needs and volunteerism, and spiritual support teams. A few years before, churchgoers took ownership of the Flags of Freedom project, an effort to place flags along Johnson Drive, a main thoroughfare, Shawnee had been planning to discontinue it for lack of manpower. The religious communities put out notices, and volunteers descended. Boy Scouts and others then took on the annual project. “The thing about it is, when the church steps forward and begins to serve, it leads the way for everyone to start serving,” Winn says. “Our ultimate goal is to get neighbors helping neighbors.” When volunteers show up at homes, sometimes curious neighbors come over to learn what’s really happening. “Our goal is instead of people calling the city is for them to step up and say, well, I can do that – like they do in small towns,” he says. The groups also work to provide mentors and tutors at Shawnee schools. Fittingly, they offer a spiritual support team that promotes peace and a volunteer chaplain program for police and fire departments.
The churches recently brought in a chaplain instructor. Winn said they invited regional churches to participate. They trained more than 20 chaplains from surrounding cities and counties.Religious leaders acknowledge that the overall program has been a learning experience for everyone. Cross Points Church startled city officials recently by blanketing them with notes of prayer, encouragement and thanks. “The first time it happened, they didn’t know what was going on,” Winn says. “It really freaked them out. Then they realized that, no, we’re just supporting you.” Winn says they’re careful not to overstep the division of church and state. “Our goal is not to go in and proselytize. Our goal is simply to go and serve and meet the needs knowing that the reason why we do this is because of our faith,” he says. “That’s what Jesus said, ‘I’ve come to serve not to be served.’ “So when we the church follow Jesus and we go out and do what he did – go out and serve instead of waiting for the city to come serve us – good things happen.”
Winn and other clergy in Shawnee helped create a partnership that the city could tap for help in the areas of emergency preparedness, education, community needs and volunteerism, and spiritual support.
FAI T H IN KA N S A S CI TY
IT STARTS WITH YOU AND MUST ENGAGE OTHERS
Taking the First Step Broderick Crawford, executive director of New Bethel Church’s community development corporation, can now take advantage of one of the Jersey Creek Park Trail’s workout stations in Kansas City, Kansas. Crawford’s NBC Community Development Corp. is part of a coalition working to improve the long-neglected trail and, more broadly, the health of Wyandotte Countians.
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L EA DERS HI P A N D FAIT H S H A P I NG A CI TY FOR T HE B E T T E R 6/6
A church is leading the way for a growing pack who want to reinvigorate a dilapidated trail in northeast KCK. By: DAWN BORMANN NOVASCONE
Walking along the Jersey Creek Park Trail in northeast Kansas City, Kansas, Broderick Crawford can see the overgrown weeds, the fractured asphalt trail and broken benches. “You can’t sit on them without getting a splinter,” he points out. No one could blame him for being angry with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, which hasn’t kept up with trail maintenance. But instead of complaining, Crawford practically bounces down the path. He knows government doesn’t have the $1 million-plus needed for revitalization. Instead he’s motivated to be part of the change. An alumnus of the Kansas Leadership Center, Crawford is familiar with the third of KLC’s five core leadership principles – “it starts with you and must engage others.” But he doesn’t just know it. He and other members of his church, New Bethel, are living it out. Crawford, the executive director of the NBC (New Bethel Church) Community Development Corp., sees possibilities in deterioration. He envisions children biking to the playground, perhaps to play pickup basketball, and families who can enjoy the outdoors in safety. The NBC Community Development Corp. is one part of a multifaceted coalition that includes Healthy Communities Wyandotte, Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, FreeWheels for Kids, UG Parks and Recreation, the University of Kansas School of Architecture, the Latino
Health for All Coalition and other organizations that are working to improve the health of Wyandotte Countians. “In order to really have an impact on the health of Wyandotte County, we all have to be involved,” Crawford says. Small tweaks can beget big changes. KU architecture students designed and installed some new metal benches that double as bike racks and exercise stations. The Friends of Jersey Creek walking club meets at the park every Saturday morning with as many 40 people. The NBC Community Development Corp. has also started a family 5K and health fair. The Mount Carmel Redevelopment Corp., which has also played a big role in the effort, has its own health fair, too. To keep building momentum, neighborhood resident Alexis Gatson got involved to help connect walkers through social media. “This area has come a long way,” Gatson says. “We’re doing the work.” New Bethel Church got involved, Crawford says, because it takes a holistic approach to spirituality. The lead pastor, the Rev. A. Glenn Brady, is focused on the congregation’s spiritual needs. “But he also understands that health is important. That mental health is important. That economic health is important. That physical health is
important. That interaction between our neighbors is important,” Crawford says. “You can’t be a witness if you’re not healthy.” The church also understood that Wyandotte County regularly ranks among the worst in the state for health outcomes. (Wyandotte County ranked last in the 2016 county health rankings released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.) That’s a problem government can’t fix alone. So why not harness the power of church congregations in the urban core? “If you think back to any movement that has had an impact in this country, it all started with faith,” Crawford says. “Why was there a civil rights movement? Why was there a women’s rights movement? And who started each of those movements? It started in the church.” New Bethel Church is one block off the Jersey Creek Trail, and for years congregants didn’t feel safe using it. These days they’re among the groups taking ownership of it. Crawford points to neighborhoods, churches, the Boys & Girls Club and a day care facility that have helped. This isn’t just about fixing up one trail, Crawford points out. It’s about building a community.
People start exercising at the park, and it deters crime and improves public safety. Residents walk or exercise together, and it improves their mental and physical health. People begin to feel more connected. Basketball players return to the court. House hunters might see the active trail and 24 acres of parkland – a crown jewel of real estate – and want to buy homes nearby. That won’t happen overnight. “The beautiful thing is that we haven’t asked the city or the county for a dime. It’s all come from private funding. Obviously we won’t be able to continue doing that,” Crawford says. Church members such as Crawford have already stepped forward and worked to engage others on improving the trail. But lasting change will require the involvement of even more people. The group plans to challenge unified government commissioners to invest more. But first they’ll continue to mobilize their flock. When it works, Crawford says, state and federal officials can join the walking club to get advice. “I don’t care what (Governor Sam) Brownback does in Topeka,” he says. “If we do what we should in Wyandotte County, he’ll come to us.”
Terry Jackson and Matt Kleinmann join Broderick Crawford on the Jersey Park Trail. Supporters of improvements to the trail believe that changes can help build community in urban KCK.
BRIDGE BUILDERS By: JOE STUMPE
A boy looks on during prayers at the Islamic Society of Wichita, which operates the largest mosque in Kansas. The societyâ€™s Muslims face a variety of internal and external challenges that require the leadership skill of working across factions.
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For members of the state’s largest mosque, working across factions is a crucial leadership skill that has led to progress inside and outside the Islamic Society of Wichita. But steep challenges remain in serving the congregation’s diverse membership and building connections with the broader community.
Not long after a U.S. congressman publicly criticized her mosque for scheduling a speaker accused of supporting terrorism, Tanya Abdelaziz responded in the best way she knew how. Using her background in marketing, she started a magazine to highlight positive news coming out of the mosque. “I wanted the non-Muslim community to see what’s going on,” she says. “All we can do is try to build bridges and teach people who we really are.” Manzoor Ali, also a member of the mosque, faces a different kind of challenge while serving on its governing board: finding a way for the mosque to achieve more financial stability. Using his extensive business experience, he’s helping push a housing development that would generate a steady stream of revenue.
it’s surely one of the most diverse religious organizations in the state. But it’s more than a place of worship. It also operates a school and serves as a focal point for much of the local Muslim population, which is thought to number somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 people. The mosque’s reach generates multiple issues for members who try to exercise leadership, including: •
How does their community cater to such a diverse membership while also helping members born elsewhere assimilate to life in the United States?
• How can they be accepted as part of the community by the non-Muslim population? • How can they give the society the resources it needs to continue to grow?
He’s also worked to empower younger Muslims in the community to exercise leadership by encouraging them to participate in training conferences at the Kansas Leadership Center.
And finally, how can the mosque achieve the chief goal of any religious organization: helping members live out their faith to the fullest extent?
Abdelaziz and Ali are part of the Islamic Society of Wichita, which operates the largest mosque in Kansas. With members from an estimated 40 different nations, who speak a dozen languages,
It’s a lot to balance. To achieve those sometimes cross-cutting purposes, society members must be tremendously skilled at working across factions, both those within their mosque and the non-Muslim
community. Recent efforts by individuals such as Abdelaziz and Ali have shown that progress can be made. But the magnitude of the challenges can still feel daunting. “All of those people come to the Islamic Society of Wichita from different backgrounds, different schools of thought on everything from culture to Islam,” Abdelaziz says. “It’s very difficult. We are representing and serving such a diverse group of people. ISW is a community center beyond a mosque.”
CONNECTING A DIVERSE MEMBERSHIP
The mosque, Annoor Islamic School and other facilities are located on eight acres near Kansas 96 Highway and Woodlawn Avenue in north Wichita. The society’s religious leader is Imam Mohamed Al-Hilali, a small, outgoing man, who, when not leading prayers, can be found teaching physics part-time at Wichita State University or walking on the Andover YMCA track for exercise. Because of growth, the mosque now has two main Friday afternoon services, typically drawing several hundred people each. Hilali leads services at the mosque, offers individuals spiritual advice and counsels people going through the same crises – death, divorce, financial problems – that those everywhere endure. About 2,500 people make use of the mosque or society community center at some point each year. A much smaller portion – perhaps 400 people – are what Hilali calls active dues-paying members. The society primarily serves members of Islam’s Sunni sect, the largest in the world. There are two smaller mosques in Wichita not affiliated with the Islamic Society of Wichita. Hilali says the religious and cultural views of society members range “from the left to the right.” In attire, for instance, some members opt for long robes and headdresses while many others would be indistinguishable in dress from
a typical Kansan. Hilali says most of the differences are cultural, and a key part of his role is showing all they stand on common ground. His message to inspire a collective purpose: “Let’s remember we are all Muslims.” On a Friday in July, men remove their shoes before entering the mosque. They alternate between standing and kneeling as they offer individual prayers, then sit on carpets spread across the floor waiting for Hilali to speak. Female worshipers gather in a separate room upstairs, with a third room set aside for those with young children. It’s been a typical week for Muslims – which is to say, they’ve again seen their faith and terrorism connected in news reports. In France a day earlier, a Muslim terrorist drove a cargo truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killing 85 people. Early in his sermon, Hilali refers to the attack as part of a senseless pattern of killing that seems to go on indefinitely. “To condemn, rationalize or disagree does nothing,” he says. (In a later interview, he clarified that condemnation of such attacks is “a given.”) Instead, he exhorts members to live their own lives as mandated by their Islamic faith. And also not to adopt a bunker mentality. Instead, Hilali invites members to operate outside their comfort zones and engage with others in the community. “We must play a critical role in society,” he says. In fact, the society has had an active outreach program to the community for years, inviting guests to tour and eat with them at the center and volunteering in the community. But going forward, the imam wants to see it do even more. He sees the property in north Wichita becoming a community center for all, perhaps by housing a health clinic. Wichita Muslims, as diverse as their community is internally, also must be able to step outside their own faction and engage in productive ways with non-Muslims.
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“We must play a critical role in society.” IMAM MOHAMED AL-HILALI, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF WICHITA
Imam Mohamed Al-Hilali greets a congregrant after prayers during the month of Ramadan at the Islamic Society of Wichita. Hilali is the society’s spiritual leader and emphasizes the common ground that binds attendees who hail from an estimated 40 different countries and speak a dozen languages.
“This is critical,” he says. “All these neighbors (of the society) should have something to do here. The center should become not a Muslim but a community-at-large center.” FACTIONS TO WORK ACROSS, INSIDE AND OUT
However, an incident that occurred last March demonstrates just how different the society’s situation can be from other faith groups. That month, the mosque planned to bring in Monzer Taleb, a speaker from Texas, as part of a fundraiser for its school. The day before the event, society members learned that armed protesters planned to demonstrate outside the mosque. They accused Taleb of supporting terrorism. The same day, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Wichita, called on the mosque to cancel the speaker’s appearance, noting among other things that it was scheduled to take place on the Christian holy day of Good Friday. Taleb and society members disputed that he supports terrorism and noted that he had already spoken several times at the mosque on the importance of charity. Nevertheless, the society canceled the fundraiser. But opinions diverged. Some members opposed the decision and some – including Hilali – objected to the tone of the statement issued by the mosque, which apologized for the timing of the fundraiser during “this solemn Easter season.” The imam called it “a big mistake.” “My opinion was the event was canceled. No explanation” was necessary, he says. The story didn’t end there. Pompeo later initiated a private meeting with society members to explain his position in person. A Pompeo spokesman says the congressman did not apologize but emphasized that his criticism of the scheduled fundraiser related only to terrorism, not Islam. In November, Pompeo was selected by President Donald Trump to head the CIA, pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
That Imam Hilali’s opinion diverged from how the society responded to the fundraiser incident illustrates something about the leadership of the mosque. Hilali is its religious leader, but he is also an employee of the society, which is run by a board of trustees elected by members. Those trustees handle administrative and management matters that would be performed by a priest or pastor in some Christian churches. Hilali, who was among a group of Wichita State University students that started the city’s first mosque 40 years ago, has concerns about the set-up. In fact, he devoted considerable space in the dissertation he wrote for his doctoral degree to what he sees as its shortcomings. But he seems resigned to the arrangement, saying the division between secular and spiritual leadership is typical of Muslim organizations in the United States. He understands the reasoning behind the arrangement: Muslims, he says, want their imam “to stay as a holy.”
‘MIX WITH THE PEOPLE’
Manzoor Ali, the trustee, is a relative newcomer, having moved to Wichita eight years ago. After arriving in the United States in 1976, he worked in marketing and sales for energy companies in New Jersey, Texas and Iowa before moving to Wichita, where one of his three sons is a radiologist. He works as a consultant but devotes considerable time to the society’s development projects. The society’s seven trustees are elected by members. When Ali stood for election, he says, it was clear that most members wanted him to focus on finances. “The basic question is: What are the (mosque’s) projects, then … how are you going to be successful with these projects?” Ali’s focus on the proposed housing development is an example of one of the leadership challenges he is working on within Wichita’s Muslim community. He says the proposed housing development would lessen the society’s dependence on
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fundraising, which relies heavily on two special collections taken in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Ali also wants to see the school become selfsustaining through additional tuition, grants and other sources of income. The easiest way to achieve that would be for more Muslim parents to enroll their children. The school’s academic and religious teaching are solid, Ali says, but it could use a better gymnasium and sports facilities in general. Currently, there are about 180 students in grades K-10. Plans call for 11th and 12th grades to be added over the next two years. Believing society members would benefit greatly from leadership training, Ali two years ago started a foundation that has sent a dozen people to the Kansas Leadership Center for training, with the help of a grant from KLC. Most were in their 20s – the next generation of society leaders – and Ali believes they benefited from the experience. He advocates Muslim involvement in the political process, too; the mosque has helped register voters. Ali guesses about 40 percent are U.S. citizens, although many more are legal permanent residents and could become naturalized in the future.
In contrast to Hilali, Ali thinks the society’s organizational structure works. At the top, three trustees elected by their peers act as an executive board, with the president, currently Abid Mallick, a cardiologist, functioning as the closest thing it has to a CEO (albeit a volunteer one). Below the trustees are boards of volunteers for four areas – administration, education, development and communications. Ali, like the imam, believes the society can best move forward by becoming a full participant in the community. He says he tells foreign-born members yearning for their homeland to “forget about it. This is the place where you will live and die. You have to mix with people.” TAKING ON LEADERSHIP
One of the younger generation of society leaders that Ali refers to is Maha Madi, in her early 20s. She’s a Wichita native whose father, Hussam Madi, emigrated from Palestine in 1987. Madi graduated from Wichita State University with a psychology degree last year. She spent the summer working for her father’s tire and automotive-repair business while waiting to attend graduate school.
Maha Madi, a Wichita native who recently graduated from Wichita State University, works in her father’s autorepair business in the summer. She is already experienced at exercising leadership through student government and organizations for Muslim youth.
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How Do You Work Across Factions:
LESSONS FROM THE ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF WICHITA
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THAT DIFFERENCES EXIST AND TRY TO UNDERSTAND THEM BETTER.
You can’t begin to work across factions if you can’t identify them and understand why different groups might have different values and points of view. Islamic Society of Wichita members recognize the diversity within their community and try to understand the challenges associated with it. Resist the temptation to paper over differences. The first step to bridging factions is distinguishing between them.
2. FIND A COMMON PURPOSE THAT BINDS.
A shared goal or objective is often the glue that can get people together despite their differences. Inside the mosque, Imam Mohamed Al-Hilali emphasizes that no matter their country of origin or first language, those in attendance are all Muslims. He also says the society needs to become a community center that serves the broader population, a potential binding agent for the society and non-Muslims who share the same hometown.
3. TELL YOUR OWN STORY IN WAYS THAT OTHERS CAN UNDERSTAND.
By starting a magazine called Salam, Tanya Abdelaziz is using her marketing skills to highlight positive news coming out of the mosque. The publication helps inform society members about what’s going on and raises awareness about the mosque and members among outsiders.
DON’T STOP REACHING OUT.
Working across factions can be tricky, and you should prepare yourself for setbacks from time to time. The public dustup over the mosque speaker didn’t stop members of the Islamic Society of Wichita from working to build bridges with the community at large. Adopting a bunker mentality serves no one. As Hilali says, Muslims “must play a critical role in society.” That requires a continued push even when things don’t work out as you hoped at first.
The religious and cultural views of Islamic Society of Wichita members range “from left to right,” according to Imam Mohamed Al-Hilali. In attire, some members opt for long robes and headdresses while others are indistinguishable from their fellow Kansans.
“All of these people come to the Islamic Society of Wichita from different backgrounds, different schools of thought on everything from culture to Islam ... We are representing and serving such a diverse group of people.” TANYA ABDELAZIZ
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Madi embodies the Kansas Leadership Center idea that anyone can lead, at any time, and has already proved skillful at mobilizing others through leadership, including her Muslim peers. Madi was active in Wichita State’s Muslim Student Association and was also director of public relations for the WSU Student Government Association. She grew up in the mosque, attending its school from kindergarten through the eighth grade before finishing in the Andover public schools. As a teen, she and her younger sister, Heba, started an all-girl group at the mosque called OMG, for “Our Muslim Group.” Later, boys and young men were allowed into the group. It typically meets twice a month, once for socializing and once for religious study. About 40 young mosque members belong, ranging from eighth-graders up to college students. The youth group has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House, and it played a big role in the society’s community dinner this year, to which neighbors, city officials and members of other religious organizations were invited. “Basically, the youth ran the volunteer aspect of it – serving food, engaging guests,” Madi says. Madi also sat on the mosque’s board of administration for a year – she was the youngest member at the time – where her chief role was as liaison between it and the youth group. Madi says most youth group members are like herself: Americanborn children of immigrants. “There is a generation gap,” she says. “I feel like a lot of (older members) come from a culture where they want to cherish that culture, which isn’t bad at all. But sometimes they forget we were born and raised here.” But Madi thinks having a liaison between younger and older society members was effective in making sure the former’s wants and needs were met, or at least considered.
Another challenge faces any Muslim woman who, like her, wears the traditional hijab, a headscarf. “Being a woman in a hijab, it’s a lot more difficult to make my voice heard at the table,” she says. “I have to reiterate it multiple times. There’s a lot of ‘man-splaining’ that goes on.” And yet, as Madi and Abdelaziz point out, there is nothing in Muslim teaching that prevents women from exercising leadership. During her time on the administration board, it became more diverse with more female and American-born members. Madi says another effective way for the mosque’s younger members to achieve their goals is to find older allies within the society. Madi puts her father, Hussam, in that camp. He sits on the board of trustees and serves as its spokesman in matters like the controversy involving Pompeo. “He understands the culture here,” Madi says. “I think he understands both sides of it, which is nice.”
The dustup with Pompeo both stung and motivated Abdelaziz. Born in Wichita and raised in Vermont, she married a native of Egypt and converted to Islam, eventually giving up her marketing business to focus on raising their two children. The magazine she started, called Salam (a term of greeting that means “peace”), has a dual purpose: serving as a sort of newsletter for the society and also as a window into it for the larger community. In addition to being available at the mosque, it’s free at several advertisers. The first issue featured articles on young Muslim professionals, a tribute to a volunteer and a parent’s
Generational differences represent a challenge that the Islamic Society of Wichita must navigate. While members of a Muslim youth group are mostly American-born children of immigrants, many attendees still feel strongly about cherishing the culture they came from.
A Gathering Spot for Kansas Muslims with Far-Flung Ties
A Kansas flag sits inside the Islamic Society of Wichita as a reminder of the state that Muslims of many nations call home.
The Islamic Society of Wichita’s mosque surely ranks as one of the most diverse faith communities in the state, with members hailing from at least three dozen different countries and speaking a dozen different languages. On the map, national flags mark the spot of countries that the society knows are represented within its ranks. But there could be even more they don’t know about. Diversity can be both a source of strength and a challenge as the society tries to serve such a diverse group of cultures and backgrounds under the banner of a single faith. And these efforts occur against the backdrop of especially complicated times for geopolitics in the Middle East and North Africa. Thus, there’s an impetus inside the mosque for members to be Muslims – and Kansans – first.
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testimonial to the value of Annoor Islamic School in her daughter’s development. The issue also contained the mosque’s prayer schedule and financial ledger. Abdelaziz serves on the society’s board of communications. She thinks finding volunteers and keeping them motivated is the biggest challenge facing the organization. As with any group, “you have a few people who are active and then a lot of people that aren’t quite as active.” The challenge is heightened because the society’s property serves as a community center, rather than a traditional mosque that people “walk in and out of” for purposes of worship alone. More opportunities to engage also bring more chances for misunderstandings. “It’s a new challenge for (American Muslim organizations),” Abdelaziz says. “They’re serving dual purposes that they had never done before. It creates a lot of questions about what the goals are and who’s going to do what.” Abdelaziz says that such debate over the roles of organizations is considered healthy within Islam. “We’re challenged to ask questions and look at different angles.” The day after a recent meeting of the board of communications, Abdelaziz says “this by far is the best board I’ve ever been on, the most cooperative and most excited and passionate. I see a lot of good things happening in our community in the future. There’s always a learning curve and always
a challenge, but we have a really great foundation as we move forward.” Abdelaziz thinks the way society leaders can make more progress can be found in the precepts of Islam itself. Muslims are taught to attribute positive intentions to others and to avoid backbiting, she says, and she has seen efforts fall apart when those lessons aren’t followed. On the other hand, the manners and kindness of Muslims made a huge impression on her prior to her conversion. Abdelaziz is careful to say she “is by no means a perfect Muslim” and plans to work on those manners herself. Hilali, the imam, says an incident that occurred in Wichita this summer shows that Muslims are, for the most part, valued and respected in Kansas’ biggest city. A social media user identified a local restaurant owner as a Muslim and declared that he would not eat at the establishment again. In response, numerous Wichitans publicized their intent to visit the restaurant. “The masses are on our side 100 percent,” Hilali says. Hilali says he won’t be satisfied until the mosque enables all its members to live their faith to their fullest – a perhaps impossible goal. “In this, I will tell you, we are failing.” But in earthly terms, even he concedes that the society of today is very different from the mosque he helped start four decades ago. “A bunch of immigrants and students who had nothing built up this huge organization,” he says. “There was no vision, no plan. It’s like God said, ‘Let it be.’”
Discussion Guide 1. How do you see the leadership concept of “factions” playing into the challenges facing the Islamic Society of Wichita and its members? What factions do you believe are the most important ones in this situation? 2. In what ways do you see factions being worked across in this story? What challenges involving factions do you see as not being addressed yet? 3. How would you assess the ability of your own community or organization to work across internal and external factions? What examples of success can you name? What untapped possibilities still exist?
BUILDING ETER NA L CITIZENS T E E NAG E RS G AIN DI RE CT IO N, S K I L LS I N EXC HA N GE FOR C H ANC E AT P OW E RFU L CA M P EX P ER I EN C E
Photo essay by: JEFF TUTTLE
As coordinator of Young LIfe Wichita’s urban ministry, Bill Vann, center, provides an opportunity for teenagers to earn a trip to camp. (From left) Sauhni Stallings, Tavi Agnew, Dayvon Carter and Trey Carter joined the effort last summer to work on one of Vann’s rental houses.
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LEFT TO RIGHT: Dayvon Carter cleans one of Bill Vannâ€™s rental homes in Wichita as part of his efforts to earn a scholarship to Young Life camp. Bill Vann serves as the senior pastor of Iasis Christian Center. The church is located in an area of north-central Wichita that Vann grew up in and where more than 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and would struggle to afford niceties like a trip to camp.
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When Young Life teenagers work with Bill Vann on one of his rental houses, they are doing more than performing useful chores.They are developing life skills that can help them out back home. And they gain a sense of pride and accomplishment. By giving the work back, Vann gives these teens a chance to move forward. “I call it building eternal citizens,” says Vann, senior pastor at the Iasis Christian Center and coordinator of Young Life Wichita’s urban ministry. Young Life is a nondenominational Christian outreach ministry based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that reaches more than 1.7 million middle school, high school and college students a year in the U.S. and abroad through weekly clubs and gatherings and a weeklong camp. In the Wichita area, the organization has more than a dozen ministries serving nearly 2,500 students, pregnant and parenting teens, and those with physical and mental disabilities. Young Life staff members who work directly with kids are assisted by committees of parents; Young Life alumni and civic leaders provide financial, administrative and moral support. One of the biggest weeks on the Young Life calendar is the camp experience, which allows teens to enjoy food, speakers and fellowship while participating in activities such as rock climbing, rappelling, horseback riding and parasailing at camp properties. But in the area where Vann’s church sits in north-central Wichita (which is also where Vann grew up), more than 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. It’s tough to come by money for anything beyond the basic necessities, if residents are fortunate enough to afford those. For the kids who attend Vann’s Young Life ministry on the first and third Thursday of every month, the costs for camp would be a big stretch. Helping Vann work on the 22 rental homes he owns in the area allows Young Life teens the chance to earn a $700 scholarship to camp, which can be a transformative experience for many of Vann’s campers. For many teens, camp can be their first extended foray away from home and their daily pressures and family obligations. Each year, as many as 50 teens from Vann’s ministry attend camp over the summer. “The value of Young Life is that it allows a teenager to be a teenager,” Vann says. “We meet you right where you are, but we don’t leave you there.”
COUNTERCLOCKWISE FROM TOP Bill Vann teaches Dayvon Carter how to use a power saw; Trey Carter prunes a tree as part of his chores. By performing such odd jobs, Vann’s Young Life teenagers develop skills that can help them at home; The payoff: members of Young Life attend the organization’s camp in Colorado.
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When the moment calls for shutting up By: JOEL MATHIS
Sometimes the best thing to do is simply shut up. That’s probably difficult if you lead in your community or workplace, where your opinions guide decision-making and influence the culture. And, of course, we live in a social media world, where Facebook and Twitter constantly demand our attention, prompting us to fill up the endless stream with a hot take or two. But sometimes the best thing to do is simply shut up. I realized this as the torrent of bad news in 2016 kept piling up – culminating, at one point, in a gunman’s attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine people died, and 53 people were injured. How did we Americans respond? By arguing. About guns. About Islam. About Islamophobia. About gays. About politics. About Donald Trump and President Barack Obama. Lost in all of it, it seemed to me, was a chance to be humble in the face of tragedy. The arguing seemed to compound the evil that had been done, by adding to the sum total of the world’s rage. So I resisted entering the argument. Instead, I composed a prayer. It’s here I should say that I’ve had a convoluted spiritual journey. It’s probably best to classify me as an agnostic, but I occasionally attend a local congregation in Lawrence, and I got my degree at a Mennonite college in central Kansas. You can take the boy out of the church, but it’s not always easy to take the church out of the boy. Sometimes prayer is the right response. The Prayer of St. Francis – “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace” – provided a good but incomplete starting point. I wanted to remind myself that other people deserved to be heard, despite their different fears and different solutions. I wanted to remind myself that people, even when they are at odds with you, usually have the best intentions. I wanted to remind myself that listening is more of a virtue than talking. It’s a prayer I’ve dug up on occasion ever since. Living by its precepts – listen to other people; respect their differences – is difficult. And of course, silence can get us only so far: We must discuss the issues that divide us if we’re to have any hope of resolving them. Sometimes, though, the best thing to do is shut up. At least for a little while. Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence. He blogs at joelmathis.blogspot.com.
A Thought and a Prayer
Lord, forgive me. Lord, forgive me my need to make a point right away when tragedy happens instead of taking a moment to lament and grieve. Lord, forgive me my refusal to see the fears that other people have and to understand how those fears shape their responses to each other, and to the tragedies of the day. Lord, forgive me for failing to discern evil where it exists, and for inferring evil from mere disagreement. Lord, forgive me for the anger that springs up in my heart when people refuse to give me and my friends the benefit of the doubt. Lord, forgive me my failure to give the benefit of the doubt. Lord, forgive me for any action that compounds the evil of an evil act. Lord, guide me to help create peace and diminish injustice where evil is done. Lord, forgive me my refusal to shut the hell up. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Lord: Comfort and bless the families of those who suffer tonight. Amen.
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When worlds collide By: MARK MCCORMICK
I grew up knowing nearly all of my neighbors on North Volutsia Street in Wichita. Those were the days. I remember those times fondly but even more so following November’s election, which illuminated worlds people didn’t seem to know existed. Mr. Andrew Morrow lived next door to the north and epitomized the good neighbor. He helped start our car and lawnmower when we couldn’t, watched our house when we were away and forgave me when I was 4, for driving our car off a jack and through his backyard fence. The Bradleys lived next door to the south. One of the Bradleys worked at the post office, and the other ran a small store nearby. They didn’t have kids and used to let me come over and stare into their aquarium. Next to the Bradleys were my cousins Don and Gwen Holloway and their girls: Lisa, Shontai, Nikki and Melanie. I visited so much they’d peek through a window, grimace, and then I’d hear from the behind the closed door, “Do we have to let him in?” We knew just about everyone, and my neighborhood wasn’t unusual in that sense. But that wasn’t the case for the country on Nov. 8. Many of us awakened to a world populated with neighbors we no longer recognized. Worlds collided. Two separate civilizations glared into opposite sides of a mirror. People in one world saw a redeemer. People in another world saw a charlatan. One group saw hope while others saw hate. Some saw one last shot at restoring the America they pined for; others saw the resurgence of an ugly America they wanted to forget. In our one-way mirror worlds, we can’t or won’t see things from someone else’s perspective.
And what scares us most is our neighbor’s face: The hijab-wearing student, the undocumented Mexican laborer, the Confederate-battle-flag waver and everyone in between. The farther away “they” live, the deeper and more distorted the caricature. The more we can resist this predilection, the better our chances of understanding differences. As I said, I remember my neighborhood fondly, but through an adult lens, it really wasn’t so idyllic. People designed my neighborhood’s school boundaries to keep some areas – and thus some schools – white. The population concentration caused elevated fatalities when a 1965 Air Force tanker crash incinerated 30 people, including my grandmother and 5-year-old cousin. The cemetery where they and other family members are buried segregated the plots until about 1986, when new management arrived. I couldn’t imagine not knowing my neighbors, but how well did I really know them? People around us battle challenges and endure heartbreaks every day that we’ll never know about. We Americans have policy differences, for sure: whether to expand medical coverage, managing immigration, creating an inclusive economy.
But before addressing any of that, we need to come to grips with a cold reality we were reminded of once again Nov. 8: What you don’t know can hurt “them.”
Mark E. McCormick is the executive director of The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita.
“Prayer is the best weapon we possess. It is the key that opens the heart of God.” PADRE PIO
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