We Are Not There Yet

Date posted: Thursday 27 September 2018

"We are not there yet. We are on the way together."


More than the final phrase of the Saint Paul Area Synod's statement of purpose, these words of confession and consolation form one of the key learnings from a recent 'Partnership Building' event that brought leaders and practitioners from our companion synod relationships in Tanzania and Guatemala together with their colleagues involved in local mission efforts - new starts, redevelopments, renewals, and ethnic-specific ministries.


Led by Sunitha Mortha, director of mission formation with ELCA Global Mission, we began the day by exploring accompaniment as a narrative, lens, and method for participating in God's mission locally and globally. Then, using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) as an assessment tool, she helped us to name our common worldview and identify our default posture for engaging cultural difference. Suffice it to say, where we thought we were is not where we actually are.


The IDI understands intercultural competence to be 'the capacity to accurately understand and adapt behavior to cultural difference and commonality.' It suggests that there's a continuum of responses or mindsets people and groups have when they encounter difference that ranges from 'denial' on one end to 'adaptation' on the other. In our self-assessment, we scored ourselves as 'accepting' cultural difference. In reality, however, we are a people who minimize difference - preferring to focus on commonalities at the expense of exploring understandings of cultural difference. It was, perhaps, a challenging assessment to receive but the more we wrestled with it the more it rang true. We also learned that we are in good company; as Sunitha has led this exercise across many expressions of the ELCA, most wind up in a similar situation.


If we want to be people of faith who embrace all of God's children in our wild and messy difference and diversity, then we'll need to do better as a denomination, as congregations, and as community of local and global mission practitioners. It'll be challenging work, for sure, but it is work that we do not do alone. We are, after all, on the way together.


Within the BKB community, we'll be using the learnings from the day to begin to shape our life together in the months and years to come. To move from 'minimization' to 'acceptance' requires first and foremost careful self-examination - developing an awareness of our default instincts and a curiosity about those of others. The challenging questions we wrestled with will intentionally be lifted up at meetings of the Iringa Committee, explored with leaders in Iringa, and give shape to our next round of strategic planning. Over time we hope to develop resources to share more broadly, to equip congregations to lean into similar conversations so that we all might more faithfully accompany our companions in ways that are mutual, inclusive, empowering, and life-sustaining for all.


For all of this... for honesty, vulnerability, and a commitment to find a way forward, I give thanks.




The Rev. Peter Harrits

Director of Bega Kwa Bega & Assistant to the Bishop