Welcome by Regional Minister Leathers
REGIONAL MINISTRY AS ACTS OF REMEMBRANCE
During my youth, I couldn’t understand why there was so much adoration for a Halloween. I thought of this holiday as embellishing decorations leaning towards all things weird and dead. As a youth, I loved playing on the baseball field behind my elementary school. But no matter what time in the day that I walked to that field, I was always uncomfortable because getting to that field meant walking through a graveyard. As I made my journey through that graveyard, I tried to convince myself that there was no reason for me to be afraid, passing by headstones, carefully tiptoeing around markers and memorials in order not to disturb the dead. As an older adult, I have an appreciation for the reasons that people say “Halloween is their favorite party to attend.” With costumes that allow both children and adults to creatively transform their visage into whomever or whatever they can imagine—a member of the Addams’ family, a character from the movie Beetlejuice or Scream Queens. The decorations that lean towards the spooky and macabre make elicit nervous laughs, in some cases screams or howls of fright, yet people can’t get enough. Many of the parties planned for this time of year are the catalyst for great conversations and in some cases, the beginnings of life-long friendships. Halloween festivities are planned for this time of year and offers a showcase for all things pumpkins, including carved pumpkins with illuminated faces, desserts made from pumpkin or topped with pumpkin pie spices, hot drinks with pumpkin flavoring, autumn beers which feature the flavor, you guessed it, pumpkin! Many cultures throughout history and today have actively placed great importance on not forgetting those who have lived before them. In a recent Washington Post article, journalist Theresa Vargas noted an example, which emphasizes how “remembering” is an important part of Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead observance seen in many Latin cultures. Ms. Vargas points to Aztec and the Mayan beliefs that we have three deaths. The first one is when our heart stops. The second one is when we are buried. And the third one, and the most fatal one, is when we’re forgotten.” This is the basis of the Day of the Dead—remembering, to ensure that people’s contributions to their communities are not forgotten, which means their names and memories of them remain with us.
Coming of age within the Black worship experience, I was comfortable with giving God thanks for good people who had lived honorable lives. Many of these people died for their unselfish contributions to causes of freedom, human dignity and worth (they were martyrs as were the saints in the earliest years of Christianity, who accepted death as their fate rather than relinquish their identities as Jesus’ disciples). I was taught to give thanks for the lives of Harriet Tubman, Denmark Vesey, Elizabeth Freeman, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, etc. Quite simply, these are a few names among the many within my cultural heritage venerated for their esteemed contributions. Only as an adult, I became aware of All Saint’s Day and its significance in Church liturgy. But, in effect, I had been practicing this act of remembrance since I was a child.
In respect to my walks through that graveyard as a kid and the acts of remembering past saints during my worship experience, I didn’t recognize the common denominator—community of the saints. I didn’t connect that particular graveyard near the baseball field where I intended to play or at that time any other graveyard and the “dead” people whom I remembered with reverence as one great “cloud of witnesses, (see Hebrews 12).” The communion of saints whose lives inspire the living to persevere, to trust God when God tells us that even in the most bitter of circumstances, we aren’t alone. Our lives can serve as acts of remembrance in service to Jesus Christ whose sacrificial love has saved us. The lives of people such as Cesar Chavez, John Brown, Anna May Wong, Eleanor Roosevelt, Celia Cruz, Marian Anderson, Fred Korematsu, Paul Robeson, Yuri Kochiyama and Rita Moreno inspire the living to do as I heard my pastor preach during the services I attended as child, “to trust God, lean upon the promises and just make it anyhow!”
On the day that I received the call from our CCCA Moderator, Reverend Terri McLellan, informing me of the decision to call me as the next Regional Minister of the Christian Church Capital Area, first, I had to navigate my car from highway 85 South to an exit. My son, who was in the car with me, watched his old man unbuckle his seat belt and begin praying (while praying, I thought of some of the saints that history had taught me, I thought of the saints like my grandparents, saints from the church in which I grew up, saints who had stayed close to me as I had done right as well as the times when I had done wrong, always praying for me). During this moment, I had two questions for myself. The first was, “In service to Jesus Christ, how can this regional ministry be an act of remembrance of those now passed away? These were wonderful people who guided, mentored, loved, and in critical times along my journey, carried me. The second question was, “How can my service in ministry be an act of “remembrance”—honoring the mission of Christ’s church in a capacity in which I hadn’t aspired but is now entrusted to me?
As for the second question, the first step was accepting that I’m in this position and now accountable for all things regional within the CCCA (including a voicemail greeting that remains ghostly defiant against deletion). Working with our regional board, Administrative Committee, Regional Elders, commissions and committees, together we will be working to discern next steps for furthering momentum in support for our regional programs and funding, strengthening the networks that build trust and cohesiveness among all of the clergy in our region (those serving congregational and non-congregational ministries), integrating tools/ data bases to increase regional communications and improving reporting (in particular ALEX for the Disciples of Christ Yearbook and Directory), growing the constituencies of our Camp and Conference ministries, evaluating opportunities for new congregations as well as the viability of current congregations (or reverence as the congregational ministry of some of our churches transition in order offer new life beyond their current decline) and as we say during facilitation of Pro-Reconciliation Anti-Racism gatherings, leading with “Value Driven Conversations.” I hope each of you will join me in this journey of remembering the unsung multitudes within the history of who we have been as we welcome the discipleship of new servant leaders in order to forge the next path forward together as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Capital Area.
Marcus L. Leathers