Becoming Beloved Community–Attending to Diversity from the Inside Out

By Virginia Holmstrom

I met Edna 32 years ago at a national ABW committee meeting and conference. She was the one who invited me to see her African-American sisters as my sisters, too. Edna wisely and quite accurately assessed my limited exposure to African-American persons when she prescribed a step-by-step journey for me to personally know and nurture friendship with black women.

Ten years later, I transferred my church membership to a Black congregation of American Baptists, largely comprised of Caribbean-born individuals and extended families once rooted in Georgia and Virginia and the Carolinas. I reveled in the spirited music that invited me to clap along on the up-beats. I learned to sing at half tempo the gospel hymns of the black church. One Sunday I brought my violin to church and began to play with the instrumental group, knowing all the while that I had no clue how to improvise for the rhythms I heard and felt.

Church services, worship styles, church-led activities, church dinners, and even women’s ministries take on the distinct traditions within a congregation; these contribute to the blessings of being an American Baptist. However, from the vantage point of our familiar church pew, we may rarely see or experience the beautiful cultures and traditions happening in American Baptist churches across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

When your church’s AB Women’s Ministries group or circle meets, you might be surprised to learn that ABWM groups in other cities or states aren’t just like yours. The ABWM group in the next city may be praying in their first language brought with them as immigrants or refugees to this country. There’s an ABWM over in the next state that may accommodate as many toddlers as women because their congregation has plenty of young adults but is sparse on the grandparent ages. The Euro-American church across town may have monthly ABWM meetings in the church parlor, and the African-American church women in the next region are organizing their next supper fundraiser to support the church’s wider ministry.

Our American Baptist denomination is among the most diverse Protestant denominations in the U.S. in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, class, and theology. That’s a gift from God, and the stewardship of that good gift is entrusted to each of us and all of us. American Baptist Women’s Ministries, just like our wider denominational family, is greater when we can learn to appreciate and respect every individual for her spiritual gifts, her perspectives, and her service to God. Offering one another the space and encouragement to serve God according to her spiritual gifts and in her own way is a beautiful thing.

Diversity indeed resides in your church’s women’s ministry group, whether or not it’s visible at first glance. In order to lead amidst our diversity, we can learn how to navigate through our differences. Developing cultural competency is a skill that can be taught and learned and practiced. Every group can learn how to make good decisions together amid differences, similarities, and related tensions. It begins from the inside out.

Becoming Beloved Community is God’s intentional desire. God created the differences within us as a faith community. American Baptist Women’s Ministries invites you to lead and share and learn how to be Beloved Community. Practical information, how-to’s, and resources for learning will be ready for you to access in July 2017 at www.abwministries.org.

Virginia Holmstrom is executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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