'Living Our Vision' conference provided methods for cross-cultural communication

February 21, 2008

Upwards of 150 people gathered in Sacramento, California Feb. 1-3 for “Living Our Vision: Leadership Skills for an Inclusive Church,” a Western Jurisdiction event at Centennial United Methodist Church.


The broad diversity of people was exciting and encouraging,” said California-Nevada Conference Bishop Beverly J. Shamana. “The readiness to grow together in new ways infused the entire gathering with God’s Holy Spirit. We actually lived into God’s vision for our world!”


Shamana, who is President of the General Board of Church and Society, serves on the Connectional Table, and chairs the General Conference Worship Committee for the Council of Bishops, was a featured speaker.


Living Our Vision was an outgrowth of the 2000 Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church, which adopted a vision for inclusiveness in the church. The Sacramento event was designed to build cultural competency skills to realize that vision.


The keynote address was provided by Dr. Mitch Hammer – an author, professor, and president of several consultation and training companies who specializes in helping individuals, teams, and organizations more effectively resolve conflicts across cultures.


“We were introduced to a number of processes that can encourage people from different cultures to fully interact and participate in groups,” reported Betsy Schwarzentraub, California-Nevada Director of Stewardship, who attended the event. “We also looked at some of our possible tendencies in terms of intercultural conflict, and how we can see some of our own and others’ present but hidden realities that we all deal with; what’s below the surface.”


Schwarzentraub said the group grappled with what the key challenges are for a Conference in building intercultural competence, and added that – to all appearances, Cal-Nevada was a good choice to play host.


“I heard a number of the people from other Annual Conferences marvel at the fact that we have worship in more than 35 languages on Sundays. I think that is so exciting for us to celebrate! But this conference [Living Our Vision] was geared to going beyond the fact of different language – to real inter-cultural communication and mutual learning.”


Host church Centennial UMC, which introduces itself on its website as “a diverse church [in which] we embrace and celebrate our diversity,” and which offers both an English language and a Fijian language worship service – considers that diversity a gift from God, according to Centennial pastor, The Rev. Linda Loessberg-Zahl.  


“We believe that we have been given to each other,” she told Instant Connecton. “When people hear about or experience the diversity of Centennial Church, several people have asked me, ‘How did you do that?’ I need one of those T-shirts with attitude that say, ‘Whatever it is, I didn’t do it!’ because whatever it is going on at Centennial, I didn’t do it; we didn’t do it; the Spirit of God did it.


“We realize that we do not own this gift. It is meant to be shared. That is why it was such an honor for us to welcome others to Centennial. We also do not feel that we have ‘arrived’ somehow. We are challenged to make our diversity ‘more than skin deep’ and to deepen our love of each other at Centennial. The real credit for the depth of the welcome offered to the conference goes to the members of the church who embody the love of Christ for me on a daily basis.”


The “Living Our Vision” conference was a partnership of the United Methodist Western Jurisdictional College of Bishops, Western Jurisdiction Inter-Ethnic Coordinating Committee, the General Board of Church and Society, and the General Commission on Religion and Race.