The theology of diversity
PC(USA)-related school hosts inclusivity workshops by anti-racism expert, thanks to grant
February 8, 2010
When the Rev. Buddy Monahan, chaplain at the Menaul School, first had the opportunity nearly 10 years ago to participate in a life-transforming diversity workshop led by the Rev. Eric Law, he knew that one day he would find a way to bring Law’s unique gifts to benefit the Menaul community.
Faced with the formidable challenge of funding, which emerged as a major obstacle to inviting Law to the private, PC(USA)-related secondary school in Albuquerque, N.M., Monahan tenaciously pursued his dream.
“Buddy was part of a group of church leaders in 2002 who attended a two-day event sponsored by McCormick Theological Seminary, the Presbytery of Chicago, and the PC(USA) office formerly known as Racial Justice and Advocacy,” said the Rev. Mark Koenig, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, which published of one of Law’s teaching resources, Living the Gospel of Peace: Tools for Building More Inclusive Community. “Ever since then, he has worked to bring Eric to Menaul to help the school to more fully live into its commitment to diversity.”
Thus the seeds planted nearly a decade earlier finally came to fruition as Law — an Episcopal priest, noted author and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute — came to the school from Jan. 21-24 to lead three separate but related workshops about building a more inclusive community.
It was at Monahan’s urging that the school had earlier applied for and received a PC(USA) Teaching of the Bible Grant, which provided the funds needed for the school to realize its vision and to enlist Law’s expert leadership.
“It was very nice to have the grant so that we could enter into the planning and execution with the luxury of doing it right,” Law said. Usually schools like Menaul don’t have the funding to make such a comprehensive training possible. Thanks to the grant, I was able to spend several days at the school in December actively listening in order to reflect the school’s many strengths, concerns and issues in our collective learning experience in January.”
Offered through the General Assembly Mission Council’s Financial Aid for Studies Office, the Teaching of the Bible Grant is restricted to Presbyterian-related secondary schools, colleges and universities. The purpose of the program is to provide funding for new programs, or new aspects to existing programs, for teaching the Bible.
Law’s cultural proficiency training is unique among anti-racism and diversity programs in having a strong, Biblical foundation.
“Biblical and theological work is embedded in the skills that we teach,” Law said. “What we do is actually gospel-like in that we are asking people to behave like Christ.”
Among the Scriptural texts chosen by Law for study and reflection at Menaul were the Pentecost passage in Acts 2 and Moses at the Burning Bush in Exodus 3.
“We found the image of the burning bush to be especially meaningful in the context of our explorations together in that we could raise hot topics without consuming each other,” he said.
Koenig, who was invited by Law to facilitate small group discussions during the three days of workshops, expanded upon Law’s theology.
“I believe that God creates the human family in incredible diversity and that it is God’s intention that we live together in that diversity, respecting, welcoming and including one another,” he said. “But that isn’t easy to do. The Kaleidoscope Institute provides really practical tools to help people do that and live into God’s vision.”
The Kaleidoscope Institute offers a collection of theories, models, theology and skill sets related to race and diversity issues.
As one of the historic PC(USA)-supported racial-ethnic schools, the Menaul School — which traces its roots back to 1881 — has a longstanding commitment to deepening its community’s cultural proficiency.
To improve racial understanding among all the school’s constituents, the three days of training were geared to distinct groupings, including students, faculty, administration, support staff and volunteers in mission as well as area church and community leaders from throughout the Presbytery of Santa Fe.
Many of the participants from the wider community left the training event excited about applying their learnings in their respective contexts.
“I had a great experience at the workshop, which is already impacting my ministry in a variety of ways,” said the Rev. Catherine Robinson, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque.
Law commended the school for its overall and ongoing engagement with issues of justice and empowerment.
“I was impressed with the commitment and care of Menaul’s faculty in handling diversity,” Law said. “In most of the communities where I lead workshops, I have to start from scratch. That was not the case here.”
Concurring with Law’s assessment, Koenig said, “It was clear to me that at Menaul we were building on strengths. This was not a case of trying to fix problems, but rather in working with a group of people committed to living in diversity within the context of faith, knowing that there are challenges to living out that calling. That is part of what we are called to be as peacemakers.”
As Law works to compile the feedback from the January workshops to share with Menaul’s leadership, Monahan already has plans for its future application. He looks forward to the ongoing dialogue around mutual respect and responsibility that will continue at Menaul following Law’s presence on campus.
“We were honored to have Eric’s insight and wisdom in our midst to challenge us to continue to be a respectful and competent community,” he said.
“Who knows how God will use this experience,” added Koenig, “but I believe that God will. And I know that Buddy isn’t going to let it go. He and others at Menaul have been grasped by God’s vision of what could be, building on what is. I’m very hopeful that more will come.”
For a complete list of criteria and to download an application form — due Feb. 15 — visit the Teaching of the Bible Grant page or call Laura Bryan at (888) 728-7228, x5735.