Reflections from Faith Leaders at ReCONNECT for the Future

“I think faith leaders are well positioned to help be facilitators of conversations that bridge divides.”

The comment from a faith leader that attended our ReCONNECT for the Future Forum sticks out for many reasons. Almost 100 faith leaders and partners from all across North Carolina joined IEI’s final Forum of the ReCONNECT NC series, joining from the panelist and participant side as concerned and committed community leaders during our eight community capacity sessions.

Our rural faith team works with faith leaders all the time who are trying to establish partnerships with groups outside themselves: schools, other congregations, non-profits and more. They are bridging divides every day, and it takes a toll. One faith leader commented that we can’t be talking enough about how to lead community efforts in a pandemic—the problems are compounding and evolving.

But on the “secular” side, partners are asking the same questions. How do we make relationships with faith communities right now? How do we staff volunteer operations when almost all forms of volunteering are down due to safety concerns? How do we work together when we’re so divided?

When bringing together partners to identify and tangibly implement community solutions (like COVID testing, anti-racism, needle exchange programs, telehealth access)—faith and non-faith leaders alike talk about the proverbial “table”, in all its complexities.

Rev. Dawn Baldwin Gibson shared: “We forget that people we’re sitting at the table with have things going on inside of them. We fail every single time in helping others because we miss the complicated factors of people.”

Rev. Eric Reece continued, “Even if we’re at the table, we’re not present. We want to offer help, money, grants, but don’t want to get our hands dirty. But we have to look around and step up and face the world. We have to BE in the reality of what’s going on around us. Let’s not form a committee, let’s step up.”

And for four days, faith leaders continued to speak plainly and boldly about what they’re seeing and what they’re feeling. Words we use (and overuse) to try to explain the complexity of life, “community”, “impact”, “assets” are often questioned by faith leaders in our spaces to say what we really mean.

Especially in a pandemic, especially for our clergy and congregations of color, and during an ice storm hitting the state and the South as we talked about community challenges—faith leaders helped make our work during our ReCONNECT for the Future Forum “uncomplicated.”

Our deep thank you to faith leaders and partners that have attended the last three years of the ReCONNECT NC series. The Duke Endowment has generously sponsored faith leaders’ participation because they believe in faith and non-faith leaders being at the “table” together. Who’s at the table, what is talked about, and what happens next is the great work of 2021 amidst every possible barrier. We thank our faith leaders for being visionary guides sharing what it means for them and their people right now. We’re with you.

We talk every Thursday at noon with faith leaders and partners—join us here.

“Resilience means admitting that the old way of thinking and doing does not work, is not accessible, and is no longer on the table to be engaged.”  –Rev. James Henderson