Space for Grace
Three days of powerful, prophetic preaching and teaching
Several hundred attendees packed plenary, worship and luncheon sessions at American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Space for Grace gathering in Los Angeles Nov. 4-7, 2015, to consider issues of race, religion, culture, and class, and the human division that too often results from diversity.
Conversations about these issues were informed and inspired by a roster of preachers and teachers who shared God’s word of hope and healing.
The Rev. Ernest R. Flores, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Germantown, Pa., recalled a time he was extended grace by a local business owner when he was short on cash for lunch. The cashier, holding firm to the rules, refused to serve Flores. The owner spoke up, proclaiming, “I know him. He’s good,” telling the cashier to serve him anyway. The cashier protested, but the owner defended the decision: “I know him. I know his family. He’s a good man. Serve him.”
“Jesus justice isn’t our justice. Jesus justice makes us uncomfortable. Jesus justice is not based on what we’ve done [earned], but on what we need,” Flores said.
Brian D. McLaren, a leading Christian author, speaker and theologian, pointed out that “Christian identity means being chosen for service not privilege. Our mission is to live out confrontation with oppressive powers. There is a deep relationship between praise and protest.” Watch his Bible study.
“Why is it that we Christians that love to talk about the grandeur of God are so limited in our spaces?” asked the Rev. Marie Onwubuariri, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin.
“How we see God affects how we see ourselves and others,” said the Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church in Los Angeles. “Sinners see scarcity, but the faithful see abundance,” Fong said.
“We’ve spent so much time being good Samaritans, we’ve confused acts of charity with acts of justice,” pointed out the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline A. Thompson, assistant pastor at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif. Just like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, “Justice may mean traveling on roads you don’t live on.”
“In Ferguson, the citizens had been living a veiled existence until Aug. 9, 2014—the death of Mike Brown,” said the Rev. Dr. Robert Scott, pastor of Central Baptist Church, St. Louis, Mo.. “On that day, the veil was lifted.” Scott challenged participants to “take off that veil, so you can see the problems of society, the pains in our community, how to solve issues, how to do the work of justice, how to be disciples of Christ, to see how beautiful you are, to see how lovely your neighbor is, and to become the beloved community.”
“You can’t have comfort and covenant,” said the Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga. “We’re called in this Space for Grace to covenant. We need a prophetic community that dares to bear witness.”
The Rev. Susan Sparks, pastor of New York City’s historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church, reminded Space for Grace participants: “We tend to judge people on the craziest things. We are prisoners of our inability to forgive.” Sparks continued, “We can focus on the negative and take others down with us, or we can focus on some point of hope and lift others.”
Recalling the story of Jesus’ transfiguration as told in Matthew 17, the Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, reminded those gathered: “Don’t shout from the wrong mountain!” Peter, James and John wanted to remain on the holy ground of the mountaintop. McMickle suggested they were satisfied too soon and should have waited to rejoice until Christ’s resurrection. “Who can’t be a good Christian in special places?” he asked rhetorically. “We want to stay in church, but we need to get out of our churches and go to the street corners.”
For a collection of candid photographs from the Space for Grace gathering, visit American Baptist Home Mission Societies on Facebook.