Latest ABHMS Justice Dialogues focuses on faith leaders participating in communities

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 10/29/21)—The Rev. Laura Ayala, senior pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Rio Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico, led discussion for American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ latest edition of The Justice Dialogues held online Wednesday.

The Justice Dialogues are forums for open discussion, reflection and encouragement, primarily among American Baptists who minister via healing and transforming communities and systems. This most recent event addressed the manner in which faith leaders participate in community meetings, especially those in which power brokers, stakeholders and decision makers are addressing justice issues.

Ayala—whose church became the operation center for the recovery of eight communities after Hurricane Maria—offered the following tips for faith leaders who want to minister in the community:

  • Evaluate your willingness to become a voice in the community.
  • Consider that this decision is initially a personal one, but ultimately involves and impacts the church.
  • Determine your role. Will you be active, passive (willing to step back and let others represent the community) or both?
  • Be open to acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers.
  • Be consistent. Be real. Be honest. Be yourself.
  • Be aware of the time that it will take away from your pastoral duties.

Dr. Clifford Johnson, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, Wilmington, Del., and past president of ABHMS’ board of directors, offered a word of encouragement to the group, saying that while one group may say there’s no need for the church’s involvement, a larger group will say that the church is needed.

“When you’re doing this work, trust is so important,” Johnson said. “The community has to trust you. They’ve been let down by so many organizations.”

Agreeing with Johnson, Ayala noted that when her church has not yet earned the community’s trust, it relies on others who have that relationship to provide an introduction or bridge between the church and community.

Ayala is also an ABHMS board member, a former associate executive minister of Iglesia Bautista de Puerto Rico and founder of the community outreach ministry Corporación Milagros del Amor, Caguas, Puerto Rico.

ABHMS will continue to convene The Justice Dialogues as safe and brave spaces for activists and advocates to be in community with each other, tell our stories, receive encouragement, provide updates and offer prayers that fortify our work together. Upcoming Justice Dialogues gatherings will be held Dec. 1 and Jan. 26.

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.