One Year On

written on 13 September 2021 by Indy Hollway & Erin Iwata

On September 11th we ran our first annual conference. We were happy to see a mix of faces, some of which were there a year prior at our launch party, some of which were new to the project, all of which were engaged and enthusiastic. I can honestly say this was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Not only was this conference a time of sharing knowledge, encouraging one another, and bearing our hearts to one another, but it was a public admonition to the church that it must start doing better. I’m so proud and privileged to be a part of a movement of people with Jesus and justice at the centre. I pray fervently that the momentum built at the conference continues, and that this movement continues to grow. Our first year has gone by fast and been filled with a lot of joy and a lot of tears as well. As we empathetically listen, our hearts are broken. Hope springs from an undying belief that we are invited to be co-creators of the world. We are welcomed to not just follow in the footsteps of Jesus but to actually (and actively) embody God’s Spirit on Earth, right here and now, in the daily actions of our ordinary lives.

For those of you who were unable to attend, don’t worry, the talks will be made live soon. In the meanwhile, here is a short summary of the topics covered:

Post-Pandemic Church.
The overarching theme for this conference was ‘post-pandemic church’. Whilst we all have a common understanding of what this phrase means, a wider interpretation was left open to all the speakers. Some viewed this as the church’s recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic, others viewed this as the liminal space left after the trauma of the past couple of years, and others still viewed this as the church’s responsibility to help rebuild the lives of those who have suffered mass social exclusion. In all interpretations, our speakers encouraged the church to step up and do better, and expressed hope for a better future.

Trauma Informed Practices in Churches and Faith Communities by Deli Macro-Nottage.
Our first speaker Deli gave a moving and informative speech about trauma, starting with what trauma means and what it can look like, and ending with what the church can do to help people who suffer. Importantly, Deli explained that trauma is not a sin and should not be treated like it is. We should approach each other lovingly, and help each other safely. She argued that the church needs to be less afraid of inviting in outside help and that sufferers should be encouraged to seek the advice of health care professionals. She also encouraged us that healing someone’s trauma is not our responsibility, and whilst we should always pray for each other, wellness and healing is a lifelong and very complex process. After listening to Deli share about trauma theology, I gathered a few stones to carry in my pocket and I’m planning on reading all the books she recommended. I am getting comfortable sitting with uncertainty and hoping to cultivate spaces for that in the community I live in. I am dreaming about what Sunday mornings could look like if they were more embodied.

Racial Equality in the Post-Pandemic Church by Cynthia Akinsanya.
Cynthia’s intersectional talk discussed the inseparability of the church’s handling of Covid-19 and its handling of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. Whilst the pandemic disrupting our daily lives left space both for people to learn about racial issues as opposed to ignoring them and continuing with daily life, and to watch the event unfold on their television at home, this was an exhausting and difficult time for black people everywhere. Cynthia talked honestly about how she found herself having to set boundaries with friends who all wanted to ask her questions. She ended with her desire that the church should not be split up by race, but should instead be a united family, speaking out against racism and supporting one another through the pandemic. Cynthia reminded me that the division of race in churches is not Kingdom culture. Even efforts to have an “international service” can miss the point because every Sunday should embody and transcend everyone. We felt Cynthia’s weariness at being asked to educate her white friends. Her advice to listen without prejudice, leave room for non-western perspectives, and to take people as they are was pure gold.

Women in the Post-Pandemic Church by Alicia Hovanas.
If you wanted a feminist exploration of Genesis then this talk was for you. Alicia uses her extensive academic knowledge to encourage us to see women’s role in the Bible differently. She argues that sexism in the church comes from an inaccurate interpretation of scripture, and a desire to maintain patriarchal ideals. She also lamented that the patriarchy and church are so inextricably linked for some people that when women are fighting oppression, they are often interpreted to be fighting the church. Her hope for the future church is that women’s voices are listened to and taken seriously because when voices are silenced it is detrimental to us all.

Queer People in the Post-Pandemic Church by Mark Ehrenstein.
As with his articles, Mark’s talk was straight from the heart. He gave an emotional, open, and honest talk about how this is not the first pandemic the queer community has suffered through, but if the church comes together, it could be the last they suffer alone. Mark brought us all to tears with the ways the church has failed the queer community in the past by claiming the Aids pandemic as the wrath of God. But the tears continued hearing Mark’s hope and love for the church. When asked how he could still connect with the church after forty years of pain Mark responded ‘what choice do I have?’ Mark’s hopes for the post-pandemic church were tied up in his experience; the desire for a community that accepts queer people and the belief that that is what God wants for us.

We also ran two workshops focused on listening to and talking with God, and attempting to hear what God is saying to us about the post-pandemic church. These workshops went really well and we are hoping to run some more in the future!

And so, we start our second year refreshed and excited for what the future brings. We are looking for new articles, so please send all your thoughts and ideas our way. We will also be starting a podcast soon, so stay excited for that!

Love always, Indy & Erin