Jaylynn Byassee is redefining her role as Minister of Adult Discipleship and Witness at her church.
Byassee said that when she began working at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church this summer, she believed a big part of her role was to help her congregants engage in the Durham community and to “figure out what we can do for the homeless and for the poor.”
But after thinking through the talks she heard at Reconcilers Weekend at Duke Divinity School, Byassee said she has redefined her ministerial role.
“I realize that my first and primary role for the church is to figure how we can know the poor,” she said. “Once we learn how to do that, and do that in a different and mutual friendship…then we can also figure out how we can learn from each other…It’s not so much what we are doing. It’s being in friendship with them and knowing them. That’s a challenge for folks who aren’t used to that, but it’s also a calling.”
Byassee said her church and her congregants work hard to invest in ministries in the community. The church is in a prime location to serve, located on a busy main road near downtown Durham. But something still is missing, she said.
“I still feel like there’s a gap. And I still feel like there’s a desire…And so in a way, even though we are doing a lot in our outreach, it also feels like we're at a crossroads of new beginnings, as the church begins to learn and discover ways for more people to have an opportunity to serve and grow. We are ready to rethink our mission and figure out how to do it differently,” she said. “I feel like I am missing out on part of Christ’s friendship by not knowing the poor. It’s important for me as a leader in the church to help people know that Christ has much to share with us when we are friends with the poor.”
Building authentic friendships within the Durham community can be challenging, especially in light of the visible divides, Byassee said.
“We’ve got this wild dynamic of Duke Divinity School and Duke University being in the center of Durham. And the big joke is, you can’t get anywhere in Durham without hitting Duke. You can’t get past it. It’s part of Durham, and it’s part of this community,” she said. “But at the same time we have our friends on the margins that are our neighbors…and I do think there are some struggles and some barriers there.”
Byassee would like to see those barriers broken down, and she wants to lead the congregants at Duke Memorial United Methodist in exploring what it means to embrace a spirit of mutuality in all interactions with people they meet.
Byassee envisions a church community filled with neighbors who are diverse and treasured, who share the sacraments together, who wash one another’s feet. She envisions a community that instead of splitting into us vs. them, instead cries out, “We are all in this together.”
“I think that’s the biggest vision,” she said. “That we would be walking together.”