Written by Mari Castellanos
Coral Gables, Fla.
Kris Tagamori and Priscilla Tolentino Lee, along with other women from the Hawaii Conference, helped lead the Friday morning devotions at the Fourth National Women's Meeting.
© Nathie Malayang photo
It was a vision of the Reign of God. I'm talking about the Fourth National Women's Meeting, held in Charlotte, N.C., April 27-30. I must admit that the extent of the diversity of the women caught me by surprise.
"From Many Streams, A New River" gathered 968 participants, including 238 clergy, from 34 UCC conferences. Guided by Isaiah 43:18-21, the organizers from the UCC Coordinating Center for Women "envisioned the streams of diversity of our lives flowing through the desert and coming together into one, new, holy river of God's people."
This vision was manifested many times during the meeting, including the Sunday offering: $10,000 was raised for the UCC's Franklinton Center in Brick, N.C., which will be used for flood relief in Eastern North Carolina.
Faithful to its theme, the meeting was a multiracial and multicultural celebration. Participants brought vials of water from their hometowns, which we poured into large glass vessels in a beautiful liturgical gesture to symbolize our blendedness as God's people.
During the opening ceremony, the names of where each of us had come from were called out and I first realized the breadth of the diversity. There were women from Korea, Japan, the Philippines, the United States, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Mexico. There were white women, black women, Asian women, Latinas of several national origins, and a strong contingent of women from five congregations of the Dakota Association, South Dakota Conference.
As a newcomer to the UCC, I did not know the depth of the denominational commitment to the issues of justice that are close to my heart. Going to Charlotte helped me experience not just the commitment, but the long hard struggle that it took to get there. That made it real. The voices of the women who told the "war stories" sounded a lot like mine. While I was struggling with the same issues in my "church of origin," these sisters were making a safe new home for me in the UCC. Our tears blended together into the new river.
At my church, Congregational UCC in Coral Gables, Fla., we have been celebrating a Jubilee Year of multiculturalism and liberation. We have celebrated the different cultures in our congregation and attempted to learn the skills to live out our call ing to be a church for all people. Our Jubilee Year closes on Pentecost Sunday, June 11, the birth of the multicultural church.
After honoring the different cultures in our parish, I was blessed with the experience of a fully inclusive church at the Women's Meeting in Charlotte. White women and women of color, lesbian and straight, all shared stories of the pain of the process that gave us a more just, inclusive church. Birthing is at once a painful and gloriously joyous event. I suspect that the more we let go and surrender to the life-giving Spirit of God, the less painful and the more joy-filled it is.
I will remember the singing the most. I never thought I would sing "Ubi Caritas" in a Protestant church or hear the Dakota "Prayers for the Directions." My sisters' voices were a soothing balm for my battle scars. Sometimes we must experience the vision today in order to make it a reality tomorrow.
I hope there will be more gatherings like this. In our hearts, we all know what the "kin-dom" of God looks like. Once in a while, we need to be reminded.
The Rev. Mari Castellanos, a Cuban-American who has been in the States since age 13, is Associate Pastor of Congregational UCC in Coral Gables, Fla. A "cradle Roman Catholic," she joined the UCC two years ago.