First United Methodist Church

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Embracing Our Calling to Welcome All

According to the great theologian and teacher Richard Rohr, this is one saying that is found uniformly in all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Rohr writes, “This is meant to utterly reshape our understanding of who God is and where God is. Of who we are and where we are.” Over this year’s summer and fall seasons, seventy-nine FUMCWP church leaders participated in two powerful Diversity workshops facilitated by Barbara Thompson of UCF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “The ABC’s of Diversity” provided a mirror and understanding of the deep wellspring of rich variety of thought, heritages, legacies, and experiences that exists within our church community. “The Power of Hidden Biases,” the second workshop, was an advance workshop that offered insights, awareness and knowledge of those cultural constructs and biases that can inflict unintentional harm on ourselves and others.

~Tonya Tolson, Diversity Committee Chair

Below are meditations from those participants who were moved by these two workshops:

  • The segment of the training that addressed hidden biases was powerful, particularly the video of the young children and the dolls. It seems that we are all impacted by the subtle and not so subtle messages of society that we receive from our youngest age.  And from an early age they can become part of our thinking, our belief system. ~ Elizabeth Bosserman

  • I enjoyed and learned from our group sharing their experiences and stories. It is always good to be reminded about implicit biases and the situations shared were good examples and heartbreaking. The scenario of young children who were black picking the white dolls was eye-opening and scary. This scenario was a replication of study done a long time ago which served as part of the rationale for Brown vs the Board of Education.  Hard to believe that things have not changed in 50 +years.   Hopefully I will be more sensitive and aware of those implicit biases in my interactions within the church and the larger community. ~ Lee Cross

  • The Diversity Workshop was a meaningful and thought-provoking experience. It was especially helpful in sharpening my awareness of my hidden, “benign” biases.  My intention is to be more aware of them, to “self-talk” my way through dealing with them and to govern my thoughts, feelings and behaviors accordingly.  It is a big challenge but I hope through conscious awareness, intention and prayer, I can work my way through them.  Thank you for providing this opportunity to grow in personal awareness and to effect change in perception and behavior. ~ Arnetta Rodgers

  • Our ministry is geared toward religiously unaffiliated millennials and we found ourselves in a situation where the leadership was vastly white and wealthy …and our young leaders are not! At first, we were thrilled at the diversity God laid at our feet and then quickly realized we are ill equipped to journey authentically with them (and ourselves!).  The FUMCWP diversity workshop gave us a safe place to explore our brokenness, acknowledge our natural (but often harmful) biases, and begin to dialogue about the ways power and privilege could be acknowledged and shared in healthy ways for the growth of the kingdom of God, as well as the deepening of our own souls. Good stuff! Gospel stuff! ~ Michele Van Son Neill

  • Christian leaders are not neutral. Dr. Gomez, Dean of the School of Business and Leadership at Regent University speaks of how Christian leaders are to live in community loving others while not compromising our values. The experience of the Diversity Workshops hosted at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park (FUMCWP) this fall highlighted this theme. We worship a God who is not limited by human imagination, and God’s handiwork is more creative than human cognition. God blesses each person with unique strengths, spiritual gifts, and innate characteristics.  It is at the intersections we must cling to the biblical principles of compassion, love, and humility.  We face these intersections in all areas of life – work, social settings, family life, and church ministries.  Consider findings from Gallup Research that speak to the unique gifting within each of us.  Further, Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath highlights the need for well-rounded teams opposed to well-rounded individuals.  As FUMCWP seeks to be a vibrant family, our culture must be one that proclaims, ‘We are precious in God’s sight.’  The Diversity Workshops provided a safe space for individuals to dialogue within a context that not only spoke of the need for diversity but further – the need for inclusion.  Let all hear the message of Christ’s love for all people. ~ Sarah Skidmore

  • Sometimes our history, upbringing, or pursuit for perfection creates a veil we live behind and we assume we have to keep operating in our relationships and routines in the same way we always have.  We assume our treatment of others and the judgements we secretly (or openly) carry, should and must be true – because without them, our sense of power and prestige will crumble.  It is when we dig deep, carving out the time for intentional and vulnerable conversation, that a veil might be lifted- a new way might be discovered.  This heavy veil of history, upbringing and perfection that casts an opaque shadow on others is ONLY lifted through education – the education we receive from listening to another’s story, or an open-face experience with someone you formerly judged deeply and incorrectly.  The UCF Diversity and Inclusion workshops were that much needed and appreciated education I needed to lift that heavy veil.  I felt joy and liberation in speaking openly and plainly about stereotypes and assumptions, and how these keep me or another from living fully into who God calls us to be.  I so deeply appreciated an opportunity to have real and hope-filled conversation about how we might become more open, aware, and loving as a church family. ~ Annette Snedaker

  • The popular social scientist and storyteller Brené Brown recently said that the requirements for Courage are: “Uncertainty, Risk, and Emotional Exposure.” Another vital ingredient is what Barbara Thompson of UCF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion miraculously edifies, the sacred and safe space to speak truth and to tell stories as medicine.  Barbara also has the uncanny and lovable ability to disarm us while opening up our hearts and minds to the fuller acceptance of ourselves and others. This is her ministry.  These are some of her gifts, and I believe we will forever be changed by her body work.  How will I personally apply what I learned in these two workshops?  I now check myself for my own implicit biases, in order to dislodge those imbedded prejudicial programs in my unconsciousness.   In addition, I will continue to commit to modeling compassion, kindness, and forgiveness, however and wherever possible, living deeper in the response and less in the knee-jerk reactive.  Knowledge, awareness, prayer, and contemplation are the bridges to God’s Flow, God’s Love.  ~ Tonya Tolson