Dear White people: Yes, the MCC PAD Conference is for you

So when they had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that God has set by God’s own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:6-9

The word “witness” has traditionally been understood to mean “telling others” about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Within my childhood church, it meant preaching salvation through Christ alone and converting the lost to Christianity. It was about doing something to others.

But what if Jesus means bearing witness to, and with, the pain in our world? What if Jesus means paying attention to, being with, and caring for those in pain – spiritual, mental, emotional, social, physical, or societal? What if Jesus is calling us to “bear witness” to the pain of those around us by ensuring that it does not go unseen, unheard, or unaddressed?

In moments when we cannot change the circumstances causing pain in another’s life, bearing witness to their pain or grief may be exactly what we are called to do. Bearing witness to their suffering may be the most powerful thing we can do. When someone is in pain giving advice or preaching to them is often unhelpful. It can even exacerbate their pain or be abusive. In contrast, sitting with, and staying with, their pain is a powerful way to bear witness to the experiences of those around us.

Or, what if Jesus means “bearing witness,” as in paying attention to the injustices in our neighborhoods, communities, and our world? What if Jesus is calling us to witness by naming injustice when and where we encounter it, near and far? Perhaps even bearing witness by capturing incidents of harassment or violence directed at Black and Brown individuals on our cell phones so these moments cannot be erased, denied, or forgotten?

Or, what if Jesus is calling us to bear witness to what God is doing both at home and around the world? What if it means noticing the many different ways God is alive not only within those who are like us, but also within those unlike us? What if bearing witness means learning from those whose social locations and life experiences differ from ours? What if Jesus is challenging us to notice the diverse ways people experience and worship God – not only in Jerusalem, or Judea and Samaria, but even to the ends of the earth.

Recently a fellow Union Theological Seminary alum, Rev. Isaac Lawson, preached on this text inviting us to suspend belief in “what is” and instead, imagine what “could be.” To imagine a world “beyond belief” in this present moment.

MCC’s upcoming PAD Conference invites both people of African and European descent to witness a world where Blackness is centered. This is critical for those us who are White. Whiteness so permeates our life experiences and social contexts that it can be difficult to see the extent to which Whiteness is centered – like a fish not knowing anything other than the water that surrounds it.

If we are truly committed to greater inclusivity within MCC, those of us who are White need-and are enriched by-these experiences. Throughout the weekend together, we will share in praise, worship, prayer, healing, and preaching where Blackness is centered. We will bear witness to conversations and communion where Blackness is centered.

Attending the PAD Conference where Blackness is centered invites us to envision a new and different world. It invites us to envision an MCC “beyond belief” in this present moment – where the center is perhaps even dissolved and opened up to the narratives and ways of being in the world that reflect people of many different races, ethnicities, geographies, genders, and abilities. Without witnessing moments like the PAD Conference, we are only able to envision how things are today.

Building more inclusive faith communities, and creating more just faith communities, necessitates being able to envision a more expansive and inclusive world, a global MCC movement where whiteness is no longer centered. Fulfilling our calling to bear witness to the good news of God’s unconditional and liberating love for all people necessitates experiences where the narratives and traditions of everyone are centered.

So yes, our white MCC siblings, you too, are invited and encouraged to register and attend this year’s PAD Conference. We’ll be there to welcome you.

Rev. Dr. Elijah C. Nealy