In Spirit and Truth seeks to encourage discussion and deeper consideration of representation issues in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is hoped entries will prompt reflection and dialogue on aspects of expanding representation and supporting full participation in the PCUSA, especially at the assembly and mid council levels.
This blog will occasionally feature content written by one of the fourteen members of the General Assembly Committee on Representation, who are church members, ministers (teaching elders) and ruling elders from across the country, as well as links and articles of particular interest. The ministries of advising, consulting, advocating, promoting inclusion, reviewing and recommending actions are vital to the life of the whole Body of Christ. Committees on Representation and/or their functions exists at all councils above session so from time to time we may highlight activities and insights from sister committees on representation at lower councils throughout the church.
Any views or opinions presented in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. or the General Assembly Committee on Representation.
Author/Facilitator Molly Casteel is an Assistant Stated Clerk and the Manager for Equity and Representation in the Office of the General Assembly. She is a teaching elder (a.k.a. Minister of Word and Sacrament) in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary.
The General Assembly Committee on Representation at its bi-annual meeting in late October held discussions, participated in training and wrestled with issues of Cultural Proficiency in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). Personally, my participation in such training began in about 1980 when I worked to train church based child care programs, their leaders and staff, about Cultural Diversity, Cultural Proficiency and Cultural Competency. Most programs then and church bodies today have much to learn from these elements. The Synod GACOR Representatives and others attending the training in Chicago this past October, struggle with basic questions of what is diversity, cultural proficiency and how does a group recruit volunteers to serve so that every voice is heard around the discussion table. Reaching this level of proficiency happens with intentionality and much work. The death of South African President Nelson Mandela reminds me that everyone has much work yet to do on these issues. Always, we must remain positive about the importance of this work and remain committed to it.
Working as a pastor in Children’s Ministries I am very intentional with the environment in which the children play and learn so that it is diverse and multi-cultural, even if all cultures are not represented in the congregation. How do we learn about and grow to respect and honor differences if we are always surrounded by people who are the same as we are in all respects?
This December we celebrate our Savior, who was born in uncomfortable circumstances according to the written accounts, and certainly was not part of the ruling elite. In fact, Jesus was born into a homeless family, one who had to escape to a different land for survival. There he and his parents would have been exposed to different peoples and cultures, and learned how to live among them peacefully. This experience must have influenced his later ministry.
As I work to ensure that the dolls in the nursery reflect the beauty of the people in our country, and the books reflect many diverse faith stories to older children, I am aware of the purchases I make to create such an environment. Christmas provides each of us with an opportunity to be more inclusive in our gift giving. I cannot think of a greater gift for a child and a family today than a book which expands their understanding of culture, custom or viewpoint. This Christmas, let us work to make our gifts meaningful on a variety of levels! Let us seek Cultural Proficiency. Instead of the expected items, replace one or two with a toy or game from a different culture, and a special book that will illuminate and enrich a life and family. Here are some suggestions:
Children 0- 6 years:
What if the Zebras Lost Their Stripes? by John Reitano, Paulist Press, 1998. This joyous book celebrates differences and how families can embrace and celebrate all of our differences.
Old Turtle by Douglas Wood, Pfeifer-Hamilton Publishers 1992. Old Turtle has a message of peace for the earth's inhabitants.
Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Wood. Scholastic Press, 2003."Old Turtle returns in a timeless story about love, acceptance, and the nature of truth."
Elementary age children:
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge Written by Mem Fox. Kane/Miller book Publishers, 1985. A little boy with a very long name lives next to elderly adults. His experiences with them will change your outlook and will help the young see meaning and wisdom in the older people around them.
The Legend of the Bluebonnet. An old tale of Texas retold and illustrated by Tomie DePaola, Sandcastle Books, 1983. How First Nation peoples dealt with their spirituality and draught from a girl’s perspective.
But God Remembered, Stories of Women from Creation To The Promised Land by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013. Rabbi Sasso has several other books for children of various ages which are quiet good. This is a collection of four stories of not so well known women of the Hebrew Testament.
Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, 1991 William Morrow & Co, Inc. A young boy is scared by the homeless people he sees. His Uncle Willie works at a soup kitchen and takes him along. Your heart will be changed at the end of the story too. A great book for introducing the topic of hunger and homelessness with respect and service to elementary age children.
God's Dream, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams; 2008, Candlewick Press."What do you dream about in your Loveliest of dreams? ...the answer to this question is as simple as holding hands yet as vast as a prayer."
Madiba, The Rainbow Man by Lionel J. Maxim; Asjen; 1997. This is the story of Nelson Mandela's incredible adventure from a small country village to the highest Office of State, with much hardship in the years between....."This is a chapter book that older elementary and Middle Schoolers will enjoy.
At the Crossroads by Rachel Isadora, Scholastic Inc. This story explores what it is like for children in South Africa to wait ten months for their fathers to come home! What joy when they arrive home!
Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, HarperCollins Publishers 2002. Illustrated by Mark Buehner. This retelling of a farmhouse family's Christmas Morning explores how "a boy wants to give his father something special for Christmas—something that shows how much he really loves him. But it is Christmas Eve and he hasn't much money...." A great discussion starter and introduction to the life of farming.
Middle School: 6-8th grades:
A World Away by Nancy Grossman, 2012, by Hyperion. “Sixteen-year-old Eliza, an Amish girl, goes to work for an “English” family as a nanny to two young children, and must then choose between two entirely different ways of life.”
The Rev. Martha Ross-Mockaitis' current ministry is with families with children, ages 0-6th grade. These are but a small sampling of what's on her shelves. She reminds all of us that building an inclusive world takes work and we all have our parts.