BY KATHY CALLAHAN-HOWELL
This year’s Continental Urban Exchange (CUE) attracted Free Methodists with the common goal of “Longing Forward” as they reach cities for Jesus Christ.
CUE convened at New Hope FMC in Rochester, N.Y., with dinner on Wednesday, April 25. Attendees came from Free Methodist churches in Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; Washington, D.C.; Flint, Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.; Peoria and Urbana, Ill.; and host city Rochester to discuss this year’s theme, “Longing Forward.”
Elizabeth Gerhardt, a professor at Northeastern Seminary, brought the opening address, which looked at issues related to the abuse of women and girls.
“Peacemaking does not begin with programs or politics, but begins on our knees confessing our collusion with evil,” she said.
Gerhardt encouraged the audience to take responsibility for the victims in the world. She also pressed churches to be safe places where the abused can come for assistance — instead of being encouraged to stay in abusive relationships out of submission.
On Thursday morning, April 26, Kaela Sittig of New Hope shared devotions. The 15-year-old presented a clear idea of what “Longing Forward” looked like in the Bible and looks like today.
Northeast Region Superintendent Mitch Pierce provided devotions Friday, April 27. Various pastors shared ministry reports, and the attendees appreciated the two workshops, “Color, Caste and Culture” by Pastor Bruce N.G. Cromwell of Central FMC in Lansing, Mich., and “When Helping Hurts” by Pastor Greg Coates of Indy First FMC.
A special presentation honored U. Milo and Helen Kaufmann who have served on the coordinating council and in various volunteer positions with CUE for more than 30 years.
Thursday afternoon, participants viewed two videos of University of Houston professor Brené Brown discussing her research on vulnerability and shame. Small groups took time to share their own experiences of failure, rejection or shame.
Coates said of this time, “The most touching moment for me was sharing about my struggles with my family, and having Kenny Martin [the pastor of New Vision Fellowship in Forestville, Md.] say, ‘I know, I’ve been there,’ choking up with his empathy. That was a moment I won’t forget.”
One of Brown’s main points was that empathy provides the antidote to shame. Participants then discussed how to create a safe place in annual conferences to share vulnerability, and also how success could be redefined to better fit the reality of urban ministry.
On Thursday evening, host church Pastor Michael Traylor preached on “From Babylon to Jerusalem,” encouraging listeners to be a church for the city, not just in the city. His last point was to persist patiently, which tied in with the final address on Friday by Marvin McMickle, the president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. McMickle quoted W.E.B. DuBois suggesting we must learn to finish things, and Harriet Tubman telling escaping slaves to keep going.
Many converging elements of the conference encouraged urban workers to persevere. Highlights included speaker Heritage Munyakuri, a 27-year-old who survived persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo and genocide in Burundi. He said God told him he would come to the United States and become an evangelist. With no money and no way to come, he considered the calling crazy, but he now lives in Rochester and serves on the New Hope staff.
Munyakuri’s inspiring story — along with the fellowship of like-minded workers — encouraged those attending to return with enthusiasm to their urban fields of harvest.
“CUE 2012 was like the Rochester gold rush. With the opportunity to sift through all that was said, there were far more nuggets than sand,” said B. Elliott Renfroe, the president of the Free Methodist Urban Fellowship. “The nuggets were visible and very valuable. I realized by the end of the week that my complaints had been changed to convictions, and God’s voice was increasingly clearer.”