Margaret Borgen, Conference Chair of the Board of Laity, opened the 2023 Iowa Annual Conference Laity Session by saying, "God is in this place. God is everywhere. God is present everywhere always; no matter what, God is in this place."
The 2023 Annual Conference Laity Session was full of glorifying God, celebrations, recognitions, awards, and break-out sessions. Still, the session's highlight was the message from the Iowa United Methodist Church's resident bishop, Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai, who addressed the laity at Annual Conference for the first time.
"I want also to recognize and say thank you to our lay speakers, those who have gone through the School for Lay Ministry, for all of our laity, and for how you serve our church. There are more of you than us clergy, and there sure are more of you than this bishop. And so if disciples are going to be made for Jesus Christ, and if the world is going to be transformed, guess who?" said Bigham-Tsai.
Bigham-Tsai expressed her joy in meeting many laypeople on the district tours, church visits, Sunday mornings, coffee hours, and the Laity Day event.
She said that in those interactions, she had been impressed with the passion of the laity, their service, and how they are on the front lines innovating, dreaming about the future of the church and what the church can be, even in this disruptive time.
Watch the entire Laity Session
, Bishop Kennetha's message to the laity
, and Rev. Calderon's Antiracism message
"We've been quiet for too long. We have been afraid to tell our story," said Bigham-Tsai. "And as laity, as those who are on the front line of the mission feel you are in a particular place to tell the story of your faith, to your friends, to your family, to people in your communities, who have an impression of the church and an impression of religion that is opposite of a Gospel of love."
Bigham-Tsai said of the laity that even when we've had disaffiliation instead of giving up hope, the laity has been talking about ways to restart and do different kinds of ministry. "God is doing a new thing. God is creating out of the chaos. God is making a new way. God is bringing streams of living water into what some of us thought were deserts."
See all the images from the Laity Session.
"The United Methodist Church, in particular, is a church that stresses a theology of grace, in particular, a church that has a statement of inclusion in its polity, in particular, a church that talks about the love of Christ, more than it talks about the condemnation of anybody, in particular, a church that does not beat people over the head with the Bible, but instead finds within scripture, words of hope, in particular, a church that understands that we are all sinners, but we are saved by grace, in particular, a church that holds together social holiness, with personal holiness, and will not let those twins walk separately," said Bigham-Tsai.
Rev. LaTonya Calderon, Pastor at Windsor Heights UMC and Iowa Conference Director of Leadership Excellence & Inclusion, spoke to the session about the Conference's priority to address Antiracism.
"I am convinced that the only way we can grow is by being engaging with others' perspectives, for one does not hold all truth within one's perspective. Rather, the fullness of truth comes through us all. This is also to say that, while I may speak on behalf of the African American community, I am not nor do I hold all experiences within the African American community. None of us do for our respective communities. However, our work is to listen to as many voices as we can," said Calderon.
Calderon spoke about her experiences as a young person growing up in Indianola, IA.
"My parents are from the South and have lived with racism all of their lives. They taught me things about how to live in this world, particularly in this all-white community. And the world taught me some things as well. I was taught you have to work twice as hard to get half of what white people get. I was taught to keep my head down and don't make trouble. Which also means don't get noticed. I was taught to be thankful for what you have. I was taught you can be anything you want as long as you stay in your place," said Calderon.
Calderon remembers growing up and going to school and saying the Pledge of Allegiance in class, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Liberty and justice for all?" She thought that wasn't true for black people like me. All didn't mean all.
Calderon said that after the COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor's murders and the awakening of the fight for racial justice, she began an awakening of sorts. She began reading and studying black history and was overwhelmed by many things she didn't know. History had not been told and hidden or just lied about to maintain the status quo. This caused her to do more and do things differently because she had a voice that deserved to be heard along with everyone else's.
"If you think that you are somehow better because you are educated and live within certain means, and can even argue that you came from meager means, but you worked hard. And with the same perseverance, people of color can do the same. We've got work to do. If you think this is America, we must do things the American way. We've got work to do. I believe that learned helplessness affects those most who think that it doesn't affect them. We've got some work to do," said Calderon. "What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. So we've got work to do. And we must be disturbed in doing our work."
Calderon has been working with a tool called the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) which helps one to identify the cultural mindset that they possess. It measures how one believes that they show up in the world, compared to how one actually shows up in the world. And then, it provides a plan for increasing one's capacity for intercultural relationships by doing the internal work of developing their mindset. You can reach out to Calderon for more information.
The evening concluded with three workshops provided for those attending in person:
- Laity in Ministry; Ways to Touch the World
- Engaging Young People in 2023
- The ABCs of LGBTQ+