Attendee: ‘Space for Grace’ experience ‘completely unexpected’ but ‘helpful’
The Rev. Dominique Atchison, associate minister of Brown Memorial Baptist Church, Brooklyn, N.Y., left American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) recent “Space for Grace” gathering in Los Angeles personally strengthened in her walk with God and her relationships with other American Baptists.
“I love that they provided space every day for different kinds of people—introverts and extroverts. I appreciated being able to walk in the Labyrinth yesterday. So, today, I brought myself out of my comfort zone and spoke to someone,” she said. “This gathering is both an opportunity to affirm who you are and also to explore outside of your comfort zone.”
From making connections with individuals both familiar and unfamiliar and engaging in enthralling late night Christian art and entertainment to walking the Labyrinth and contemplating in quiet prayer spaces, Atchison relished the gathering’s varied offerings.
She says that she was riveted by the event’s preachers and presenters, particularly daily Bible study by nationally known theologian and author Brian D. McLaren. She especially valued McLaren’s “Restoring Human Connection: Race, Sexuality and the Bible”-themed first session, in which he analyzed Christian imperialism throughout history.
‘Space for Grace is more intimate. Because ABHMS is a huge organization, a lot of people can get lost or miss connections. There’s this chance to connect with people and have breakfast with the speakers.’
— Tashi Vedel, recent graduate of Berkeley (Calif.) City College
“The racism and struggles we see today are connected to a very specific and intentional history,” she said. “And we have to be equally intentional about undoing it as those who created it.”
Directly addressing the panel at the “Prophetic Voice: Proclaiming a Missional Gospel with Grace and Power” learning experience, Atchison voiced a concern regarding attaining balance between the call to be prophetic and the need to earn a living.
“Even as we spoke hard truths, it was a loving space,” Atchison said. “I learned that there are more people out there who have had similar struggles with being true to what God called them to do. I learned that they’ve survived and done well.”
‘Space for Grace provided a refresher and put content in new ways. I appreciated Brian McLaren’s use of the story of the eunuch. There are other stories in Acts that say the same thing—that the spirit of God will indwell all people—but that story was good because it crosses racial and sexual boundaries.’
— Lincoln, Calif., United Methodist Church pastor in discernment regarding a new denomination
The panel was comprised of the Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, president, Colgate Rochester (N.Y.) Crozer Divinity School; the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Gordon, associate professor of Communication, School of Theology, Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.; the Rev. Ernest Flores, pastor, Second Baptist Church of Germantown, Philadelphia; and the Rev. Miriam Méndez, associate regional pastor, American Baptist Churches of New Jersey, and ABHMS board member.
Likewise, Atchison says she found edification in the “When God Calls Us in the Midst of a Crisis” learning experience by the Rev. Dr. Adam Bond, assistant professor of Historical Studies and American Baptist liaison, Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University. Among other concepts, the session reinforced that “God has a purpose for everything, although it may not be exactly what we expect,” she said.
“Just as with this conference,” she continued, “it has been completely unexpected but very helpful.”
Atchison had attended Space for Grace as a recipient of a project grant from the Gordon Jr. and Virginia Palmer Trust to revitalize both the young adult ministry as well as the social justice education and advocacy partnership between Brown Memorial and Brown Community Development Corp.