Article and Photos by Rev. John Wang
It was an honor to represent the Pacific Northwest Conference at the Young Clergy Leadership Forum 2017 in Washington, D.C. and to learn about the amazing work being done in our nation’s capitol. Emma Donohew and I joined 45 other clergy around the nation to be filled up with stories and accounts of the United Methodist Social Principles lived out.
As participants, we heard from key staff within the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) including Advocacy for Healthcare and Additions, Advocacy for Civil and Human Rights, Women’s/Children’s Advocacy, and Healthy Families, Healthy Planet to name a few. We also received wisdom from those outside of our church, such as Dr. Sayyid Sayeed, Director of the Islamic Society of North America; Chaplain Barry C. Black, Chaplain for the United States Senate; and Shane Claiborne, author and leader of The Simple Way faith community of Philadelphia. It was a full schedule of vibrant speakers, small group brainstorming, and encouragement for the work of social justice we could bring back to our local churches and communities.
The notable presentation that stuck out for me was the message delivered by Dr. Sayid Sayeed as he shared about the beauty of our country and its freedom of religion. He explained, “In some countries, ‘church is thrown in the garbage’ and separated from the state. What makes our country different is that we provide the church with respectability next to the state. This freedom allows the country to be a large home for all types of diverse communities.”
Sayeed went on to talk about the importance of religions expressed in our government, “They had prayer in Congress.” When we have respect for every religion, every religion flourishes. Freedom of religion is such a critical part of religion itself. His message was a reminder for me as a Christian that God grants us free will in pursuit of truth. We must be open to all as a reflection of God in the world.
Shane Claiborne shared a powerful testimony of his work in Philadelphia. He told us about his work and life of intentional living with people in poverty, rebuilding a community, and teaching families how to start over. This community attempts to literally live out the teachings of the Bible by turning guns into garden tools, renovating houses and buying abandoned houses to allow needy families to live affordably. They then teach these families to become self-sufficient by fixing and restoring their homes. Through these blessings, Claiborne gave us hope and encouragement to see that society can transform if we truly embrace living selflessly.
There were many other moments that highlighted our need as United Methodists to engage our communities and build relationships with the oppressed and marginalized. We gathered in smaller groups of clergy to get to know each other better and share successful ideas that were working in our ministry contexts. I was also pleasantly surprised to reunite with old friends from seminary and catch up on the new things happening in life. It truly was a lot of fun!
Overall, I plan to educate the church about our social principles and utilize the resources of the GBCS. Our partnership and connection as United Methodists globally allows us to expand our love for God and neighbor. Thanks be to God!
John Wang has served as the pastor of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Spokane, Washington since 2013.