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A Note from Kylie Foley, IEI’s Rural Faith Communities Program Manager

I never cease learning from John Parker. From the beginning of IEI’s work with faith communities, he’s been our “consultant on the ground” in the title but so much more in spirit. As we prepare to welcome 60 faith leaders through The Duke Endowment to our ReCONNECT To Economic Opportunity Forum, I’m called out of the fog of statistics and catering menus. Faith leaders have been telling us what they care about: the journey. A spiritual journey, a justice journey, the journey of humanity. A lot of that intersects with how people work and take care of their families, but the themes John ponders below are why we do what we do: to listen and absorb rural faith leaders’ stories and ideas around us. Thank you John!


Observations from John Dempsey Parker

John Dempsey Parker

There seems to be a convergence of practices that are showing up in our work of engaging faith communities as anchor institutions in their communities. Having conversations about hard things, the ripple effects of systematic racism and poverty, and committing to move forward together, to strengthen our beloved communities and our democracy, are constant themes. Whether it’s a missional network of clergy in rural Stanley County, a multicultural ecumenical network in Montgomery County, or a collection of faith leaders of all kinds pilgrimaging to Greensboro’s Civil Rights Museum and visiting with the Beloved Community Center, it’s heartening, faithful, and fruitful. It’s critically important work in these times. 

One such gathering I was invited to participate in was a retreat of United Methodist leaders from Eastern NC who were retreating at Camp Rockfish for 3 days to be and strategize with their colleagues from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination.  Dr. Elaine Heath and her team with the Neighborhood Seminary and Dr. Margaret Brunson community consultant focusing on racial equity and leadership shared their perspectives and lessons learned. My job was to listen and share observations and ideas to hopefully help the ecumenical gathering move forward in stronger partnership and friendship. Our team at IEI has been asked to help plan the next gathering for these faith leaders.

Some observations were that we are called to connection and communion.

The community wisdom, gifts, and leadership are abundant.

We need to show up, be present and pay attention to what’s going on, to the context, data, stories, and traditions.  

We should remember ….  whether they be a Cloud of Witnesses, the catalysts for change, the ancestors, the old ones, and the children…. Stories of transformation from the margins, the bottom, from within institutions, organizations, and congregations, from old partners and new friends.

We need each other to keep our courage up.

We need community for our inner and outer work, for support and community accountability. We must be transparent, vulnerable, honest, and open. We must practice radical hospitality, generosity, and solidarity with each other to get and stay rooted and grounded in our beloved mission – radical discipleship in beloved community– where we’re affirming the dignity, worth, and enormous untapped potential of all of God’s people.  

So with a posture of curiosity, courage, innovation, and cultural humility, we must covenant with one another and our partners and friends in this next new phase of the journey.

We need each other to understand these times, the realities that others know and live – getting beyond our own point of view and social location, letting go of self-centeredness, self-interest, and self-importance – the practice of self-emptying – dying to yourself, your culturally created self – to understand the myriad issues at play and deepen the spiritual journey.