Church and civil issues Where do you fit?
A NOAH Core Team Retreat

Shown (l to r): Rev. Herbert L. Lester, Jr., Sophia Kristina R. Agtarap, Dr. Phyllis Hildreth, Ray Sells. (photo by Wanda Clay)

Shown (l to r): Rev. Herbert L. Lester, Jr., Sophia Kristina R. Agtarap, Dr. Phyllis Hildreth, Ray Sells. (photo by Wanda Clay)

Members of the Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) Core Team hosted a retreat at Cedar Crest Camp in Lyles, Tenn. on December 9. Members from Clark Memorial UMC and Edgehill UMC, N.O.A.H. and other faith communities, gathered early that Saturday for a retreat that answered the question ‘Where do I fit?’ This retreat provided answers in the areas of faith and politics.

Leaders from Edgehill United Methodist Church and Clark Memorial United Methodist Church began to have conversations on how to be most effective in their participation in the group NOAH given that they were both relatively small congregations. In June of this year, as part of leadership training with NOAH, the two churches agreed to hold meetings together and invited pastors and leaders from Blakemore, Gordon and McKendree United Methodist churches, members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and NOAH’s leadership. After several meetings, the decision was made to hold a retreat that was later slated for Dec. 9.

To begin the session, Sophia Kristina R. Agtarap, director of communications, the Divinity School, Vanderbilt University, led participants in looking at the use of social media as a tool regarding the stewardship of our citizenship and in civic engagement. She answered the question: “How does our faith call us to active involvement in public and political life?” Agtarap sited examples of the various means of electronic communication and how it can be used most effectively to enhance the churches. She spoke on the use of social media and how it can be used to not only enhance, but to increase church involvement, politically and socially. Agtarap noted that information is dispersed through print, phone, bulletins, verbally and electronically.

“Social media should be used as support to get information about the works of NOAH and the churches through our individual church affiliations,” Agtarap said.

Social media information was followed by a participatory presentation by Ray Sells, retired United Methodist clergy and member at New Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Sell led participants in the ‘how to’ of the ‘relational meeting’ as a building block in ‘relational organizing.’ While participants were first informed on the importance of electronic media and the use of social media, Sells followed with the importance of communicating through conversation.

“It is important to connect people, build relationships, and connect people with your vision,” Sells said. “People are hungry to be heard.”

During this portion of the presentation, Sells had the participants pair with each other and learn to be a ‘listener’ and an ‘interviewer.’ After reversing roles, the entire group came back together and reviewed how the exercise taught the importance of doing both when involved in communicating. While the exercise was one of a personal nature, it should also be used to promote and introduce the works of NOAH.

Following a luncheon, participants returned to the last portion of the presentations. Rev. Dr. Herbert Lester, Jr., senior pastor at Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, challenged participants to examine a faith-based model of public responsibility. He asked the question, “Where do you fit?”

“We are all sojourners and we’re not here permanently,” Les-ter said. “What kind of responsibilities come with being a sojourner and a citizen?”

As he laid the foundation for the presenter to follow, he sited the importance of ‘community.’ While America is based on individuality, saints are still citizens; therefore, they are called to be in active involvement with public and political life. Lester sited the fact that the Lord’s Prayer begins with, “Our Father.”

The day ended with Phyllis Hildreth, J. D., academic director, Institute for Conflict Management and associate professor at Lipscomb University as well as chair of Metro Human Relations Commission. In light of injustices in the city and around the United States, Hildreth provided all participants with a packet that coincided with a presentation regarding the line up of justice. She used what she calls a ‘Flip It Test’: if justice looks the same when the ‘story’ is flipped, i.e., black/white, male/female, Bordeaux/ Brentwood.

Hildreth also noted the importance of knowing that it can’t be done alone. She said, ‘we’ works!

“Armed with this insight, we are investigating the campaign for a Community Oversight Board in Nashville as an example of civic engagement on the ground and how societal problems can be reduced to winnable issues to build organizational capacity,” in regards to the current issues of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department.

This retreat was informative and motivational, so other sessions will be prepared to continue the progress of citizens of faith and their involvement with social and political issues.

For more information on the retreat, NOAH, or how you can participate, call 615-329-4464.