How will we envision a new Pentecost?
Written by Bernice Powell Jackson
After the 1993 General Synod, as we thought about ways to make the pronouncement calling the UCC to become a multiracial, multicultural church come alive, we held Pentecost '98, a conference of churches which were already embodying that new vision or which were interested in what it might mean for them. Our present-day vision of Pentecost includes not only a vision of people speaking different languages and understanding each other, but of people of differing sexualities, abilities, races and income levels understanding each other.
As new census data is released, we find that the ways we see ourselves are quickly changing. In another generation, there will be no racial majority group in the United States—we will all be minorities. What will that mean for our nation, for our denomination, for your local church? How will Pentecost be a real part of our lives?
As I read the Pentecost story this year, I thought about the power of hearing someone else speak about God's healing power in his or her own life. A few months ago, a Cleveland pastor was in an automobile accident when her van hit some black ice, went off the highway and rolled over twice. Her car was demolished, but she walked away without a scratch. Two young men stopped and ran down the ditch where her car lay. She looked at them and simply asked, "Do you believe in God?" Her congregation says that her preaching has been different since then.
My own story of God's healing power goes back 20 years, when my 42-year-old husband died suddenly. In an instant, my whole world changed as, at 32, I became a widow. I entered what I called my wilderness, but somehow I always was aware of God's presence with me, however lonely or afraid I felt. It was God's healing power that sustained me and ultimately led me to seminary and working in the national setting of our church.
But I have also experienced the power of the God of justice in my lifetime. Sometimes it feels like the "powers and principalities" are so strong that there is nothing we can do. Many of the justice issues we deal with today are variations of the ones we dealt with 40 or more years ago—police brutality, housing, job and credit discrimination, poverty, inequities of women, accessibility for people with disabilities, hate crimes and voting rights issues. But when I feel overwhelmed and underpowered, I remember Nelson Mandela and a free South Africa and I know that there is a God of justice who is at work in this world.
Perhaps you have had your own experience of God's deeds of power in your own life or someone you love. The story of Pentecost tells us that it is only when we tell those stories to others, in our own language—however halting or unsure that it may be—that the power of the story is released. It is then that we will feel the presence of the Holy Spirit with us and all will be amazed.
Bernice Powell Jackson is Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries.