Returning participant encourages attendance at upcoming Space for Grace: ‘It’s one of those lasting, impactful events that will shape you’
Anyone who has seen American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) website or Space for Grace promotional materials has likely glimpsed a photograph of a woman immersed in worship, singing praises to the Lord with her eyes closed and head tossed back. That woman is the Rev. Nikita McCalister, associate executive minister for Administration, American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island. The image was captured on opening night of ABHMS’ premier Space for Grace national event in Los Angeles in 2015.
ABHMS recently asked McCalister about her experience at the event hailed by many as the best American Baptist conference they have ever attended. Resulting in palpable renewal and rejuvenation among participants, the event was distinct from other conferences in a variety of positive ways that allowed the Holy Spirit to move.
McCalister recalls the dramatic impact on her Space for Grace roommates—two fellow Rhode Islanders aged 60-plus.
“They said, ‘In all my years of attending ABC conferences, this is the best I’ve ever been to,’” remembers McCalister. “Walking into that space, people encountered a presence that said, ‘You’re valued, you’re sacred, and we’re happy that you’re here.’”
The event embodied a sense of intentionality and attentiveness that were apparent, she says, from the time it was but a spark in the mind of ABHMS’ then-Executive Director (now Executive Director Emeritus) Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins. Anticipation was high from the moment that McCalister and others across the United States were asked to participate in a pre-event survey to determine their hopes and expectations as potential Space for Grace attendees.
“ABHMS had undergone a whole process of trying to design a conference that people wanted to attend and to ascertain what would make them travel across the country to be a part of it,” McCalister remembers. “Everything was created so that people, including myself, wanted to be there.”
Diversity was welcomed and celebrated, allowing for profound, healing conversations about the often-difficult subjects of race, religion, culture and class at a time in which continuing divisiveness, polarization and violence were exploding.
“It was done in a way that didn’t ostracize. Everybody was invited to the table. The conference lent itself to taking time to understand the ‘other’ and figuring out how you are the ‘other,’” she says. “Coming from my own African-American background, as a ‘minority,’ it’s harder to have that conversation because you’re the one always initiating it. Having a greater audience balanced it well and allowed for unification.”
McCalister was impressed, she says, by powerful learning opportunities, informative Bible studies and world-class inspirational speakers, all offering take-home skills to be applied to a real world torn asunder.
“It offered more than just having a ‘good time’ and ‘great worship’ with no practical application as to how you’re going to live that out,” she notes.
Showcasing a variety of faith-influenced art and performances—from painting and multimedia to musical and spoken-word acts—Space for Grace’s Innovators Hall, as McCalister describes it, was “phenomenal.”
“The amount of creativity was a reminder that we serve a God who is creative. Space for Grace is allowing us to celebrate the creativity in each one of us, as we see others being creative,” she says. “Space for Grace took into account that God knows each of us as individuals, that we are all gifted, and that we can all step into that giftedness and embrace who God has intended us to be.”
A labyrinth, prayer rooms and quiet spaces for reflection invited attendees to encounter a limitless God in various ways, causing McCalister to resonate with the concept of “taking off the lid,” she says. The idea, she says, is to worship in a liberated manner and to free God from confinement within the self.
“It’s a way that would encourage me to look outside of the box and let God permeate the spaces that I encounter,” she explains. “To allow myself to be a true vessel for God to use as God wishes.”
Escorting a first-timer and seeking to coordinate a busload of attendees from Rhode Island to Space for Grace 2018: “Thy Will Be Done,” McCalister encourages others to attend the not-to-be missed urban retreat Nov. 14-16 in Philadelphia.
“It’s one of those lasting, impactful events that will shape you,” she says. “You will become a Space for Grace conduit, creating spaces for people to experience and encounter God wherever they are, as a way that we can receive and accept ourselves as sacred beings.”