ABHMS hosts third installment of Intercultural Leadership Institute

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/17/20)—On Saturday, American Baptist Home Mission Societies Intercultural Ministries held the third installment of its Intercultural Leadership Institute via Zoom on the ministrElife social media platform. Presenting on the subject of “Skills and Tools for Delving into Diversity and Difference” was the Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski, executive director of MeckMIN Mecklenburg Interfaith Network, Charlotte, N.C., and former executive director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America-Bautistas por la Paz.

Polaski noted that the goals of the meeting were to deepen understanding of the current moment and how it impacts the ability to deal with diversity and difference; increase understanding and empathy; and explore skills and tools for increasing the ability to delve into difference and diversity.

She began the presentation by asking for three different volunteers to read aloud the poem “When Someone Deeply Listens to You” by John Fox. She then asked participants to share the phrases that stood out to them.

“You are loved,” said one. “Fresh water,” said another. “It is as discovering gold,” said yet another.

When Polaski asked participants to voice a message that they needed to hear from the poem, she was answered with such phrases as, “If I want someone to deeply listen to me, then I need to deeply listen to them”; “focused on the connection between balancing and listening, and balancing and being listened to”; and “We may be from different places, but when we’re able to listen, we’re able to be in the same place.”

Polaski then introduced “The Diversity Welcome” as a strategy to be used at the beginning of meetings. In this case, the person running the meeting would list as many types of diverse individuals and feelings as possible followed by the word “welcome” after each list. For example, “If you’re Black, white, Latinx, Native American, Asian, welcome.” “If you’re gay, lesbian, bi, straight, cisgender, welcome.” “If you’re excited about being here today or if you’re annoyed about being here today, welcome.” And “If you’re frustrated, bored or engaged, your being here enriches this space, welcome.”

The group also discussed the reactions experienced when confronted by friends on Facebook who think and feel differently than oneself. Polaski shared that she struggled to breathe when an old friend recently shared conspiracy theories and digs at Polaski’s political affiliation.

“The emotion I’ve felt in these situations is betrayal,” said participant Michael Strickland, pastor of First Baptist Church, Atchison, Kan.

Polaski ended the session by discussing trauma. She explained that executive functioning in the brain is bypassed during trauma, and the individual reacts from the primitive brainstem with fight, flight, freeze or fawn. “Fawning,” she said, refers to attaching oneself to someone or something that makes one feel safe.

She introduced methods for combating traumatic reactions. For example, box breathing entails inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and holding for four counts. The process is then repeated as many times as necessary to bring calm.

The first Intercultural Leadership Institute session was face-to-face in 2019 at ABHMS’ Leadership and Mission Building in King of Prussia, Pa. The second was a virtual meeting held recently on ministrElife.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.