"What do faith values have to do with diversity work?"
Three plenary speakers answered that question for about 70 leaders of UCC and Lutheran faith- based health and human services agencies at a Chicago conference Nov. 2-3.
"Diversity Works: Developing Cross-Cultural Competencies for Effective Ministry" was the theme for The Forum 2000, as participants discussed the cultural diversity of the people they serve, as well as the diversity and cultural awareness necessary in their workplaces.
Lutheran Services in America (LSA) and the UCC's Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) sponsored Forum 2000. LSA is an alliance of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and their 280 social ministry organizations.
Creed and deed gap
The Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock, executive director, ELCA Division for Congregational Ministries, Chicago, remembered growing up at a time and place where segregation was legal. The church and its agencies reflected that attitude, she said. "There was a huge gap between their creeds and their deeds ... mission statements and mission activities."
People have worked hard to limit others' opportunities, said Bullock, demonizing the other and building barriers to keep others out. It will take even harder work "to embrace our diversity in the workplace and live in a mutually participatory relationship," she said.
Jesus came for strangers
The Rev. Lorenz W. Lutey, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, Wheaton, cited examples of people who seem "strange" and come looking for employment. He encouraged conference participants to "create an environment in your workplace that ... treats everyone with respect and justice" and told them such an environment "must be shared by example from the leadership, throughout."
"In the workplace where diversity works, no one is a stranger," said Lutey. "Jesus came here even for the strangers ... even those who are strangers for us."
Look beyond the familiar
Julia M. Speller, assistant professor at UCC-related Chicago Theological Seminary, recalled a proverb of the Bantu people of West Africa: "Those who never visit think mother is the only cook." She used it to illustrate how people who never look beyond the familiar miss many of the world's and God's opportunities.
Speller had three pieces of advice for leaders of social ministry organizations: "Name and eliminate the barriers that prevent diversity, cultivate attitudes that honor diversity, and create policies and procedures that will invite and support ongoing diversity."
Seminars and field trip
Forum participants also attended seminars and toured UCC-related Uhlich Children's Home, a CHHSM member agency. St. Pauls German Evangelical Lutheran Church, Chicago, established the home in 1869 out of concern for children left orphaned by the Civil War. The congregation is now St. Pauls UCC. Uhlich cares for Chicago's neglected, abused and troubled children through an array of services.
About half of The Forum's participants came from UCC-related agencies, one sixth from Lutheran agencies, and one third from Lutheran-UCC jointly related agencies. They included board members and executive officers, as well as personnel, church relations and other staff.