Over 400 participants from all continents (barring Antarctica) gathered on Messiah College’s campus in Harrisburg, Pa., to further their understanding of Anabaptist teachings while exploring what it means to be a part of the global church during the 2015 Global Youth Summit, under the theme, “Called to Share: My Gifts, Our Gifts.” Participants engaged in deep learning through workshops led by professors and historians, connected to their history through historical Mennonite tours all over Pennsylvania where they visited museums and Mennonite churches and met Amish families, and tapped into their musical side with globally-infused worship.
My role as the North America representative for the summit (which coincided with the 2015 Mennonite World Conference) meant meeting with delegates on an individual basis — the delegates being representatives from global conferences. It meant hearing stories about home churches and struggles with governments, and discussions about theologically Anabaptist responses to violence and change in all four corners of the earth.
And, of course, it meant witnessing people randomly break out in song and dance. Both a boisterous drum circle and competitive games of Dutch Blitz lasted well into the night.
I think we’ve all been there: physically tired, emotionally battered, and spiritual frustrated. This combination of conditions often lead to the thought of wondering if anybody cares — not just for you, but for the things that you are passionate about. You may feel like the last person standing, the only one who has a sincere zeal for what you’ve been called to address. ...
The Summit provided a unique setting that brought together leaders from the business and urban communities, others from the front lines of inner city racial inequality protests, and rural communities of both national and international descent.
The work we do in the nonprofit sector is complex and multifaceted. Often we find ourselves compartmentalizing our identities based on the work we’re currently doing. Am I a woman, an organizer, an African American, a facilitator, a Roman Catholic, a philanthropist, or a manager? And which of those is most important to the success of my work?
The Summit, hosted by Sojourners, is a unique opportunity to rise above some of these identity markers and practice being as holistically authentic as we can. Over 300 leaders committed to changing the world through faith and justice gathered in June in Washington, D.C., for a three-and-a-half day exploration of the particular ways that faith leaders impact a range of social justice issues. NCRP facilitated a private conversation for nearly 2 dozen philanthropic leaders who attended The Summit to consider the role that philanthropy plays in this process.
Much more than an event or a conference, The Summit was the growing edge of the beloved community — a gathering of emerging leaders with deep reach into neighborhoods and communities that are outcast but vibrant, marginalized but standing tall. It was creative and radically inclusive, bringing together people with very different experiences in the struggle for a more just and peaceful world.
To be included as an elder for such an event was a humbling and lovely experience — even more so to share that experience with such wise and faithful disciples as C.T. Vivian and Eliseo Medina, Heidi Neumark and Terry LeBlanc, Katherine Marshall and Roy Sano. I gained much more from each conversation than I could possibly have given!
Editor’s Note: We at Sojourners thought it would be nice to share first-hand reflections of this year’s leadership Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice from participants to give a little glimpse into the impact and experience. Our first post comes from Rev. Louise Howlett of Middleton, Del., who was a first-time attendee nominated by fellow sojourner and changemaker Louise Coggins, with whom she serves on the board of VISIONS-Inc.
My first Sojourners Summit was a powerful experience. I was not sure if I belonged there at first, and expected to be intimidated by the fervor and zeal of other participants. My work is on a small scale and is often more about personal transformation and interpersonal change than large-scale systemic change.
Yet I found the stories told from the podium, the sharing at the tables, the teaching in the workshops and panels, and the music and visual arts in response to be both inviting and empowering. Being with people of faith from all different backgrounds and faith groups bonding in prayer and care for justice — and sharing in fighting racism, war, poverty, and systems of oppression — felt hopeful.
Sometimes care for justice feels lonely and hard, like swimming upstream. But being in a gathering like the Sojourners Summit reminded me that hundreds and thousands of people of faith are out in their communities praying and working together to make change.
Week after week, we can take on the biggest issues we face as a society — from continuing racism, mass incarceration, inequality, and poverty to gender violence and human trafficking, climate change, ISIS — and just try to be hopeful.
Or we can start by going deeper, to a more foundational and spiritual understanding of hope — rooted in our identity as the children of God, made in the image of God, as the only thing that will see us through times like this.
I believe we should start there. Because the biggest problem we face — the biggest enemy at the heart of many of the issues we must address — is hopelessness.
And perhaps the most important thing the world needs from the faith community is today is hope.