If anyone would have asked if I were interested in the field of reconciliation when I enrolled at Duke Divinity School, I would have said, “NO.” In my mind, reconciliation meant dealing with issues of race and economics, and while I could recall experiences with racism and thought addressing the matter was important, I was at the Divinity School to prepare for youth ministry. I did not want to involve myself with intense racial discussions when I had a rigorous academic road ahead of me. Besides, I thought that growing up in Portland, Ore. gave me enough exposure to diversity to handle race relations on an individual basis. I had resolved that my role in bringing about justice would be through ensuring that African-American youth in urban settings received quality education and affirmation of their God-given gifts, talents, and worth. On my way to this ministry, however, I found myself on a journey of reconciliation, which has required my own personal transformation.
My first field education placement in the summer of 2008 was at New Song in Baltimore, Md., through the Center for Reconciliation (CFR). This community had a 25-year history of modeling justice through its church and ministries of education, healthcare, affordable housing, employment assistance, and drug recovery for women. Excited about the opportunity to witness this work, I had not considered the possibility that my passion for urban ministry might be met with less enthusiasm from the community itself. I had overlooked my own need to receive acceptance from the community. I assumed that I would automatically be embraced for sharing the same racial background as most of the community, but that was not so. I felt apprehension from some of the community members; they were cordial, but seemed suspicious of my authenticity. How I spoke and presented myself separated me from others in the community. Trust was something I had to earn. This opened my eyes to the reality of class divides (whether perceived or actual) among blacks and the need for healing andreconciliation.
Despite my slowness in forming relationships, being at New Song was an ideal location for me to learn about education in an urban setting and how the church could facilitate academic and spiritual growth for urban youth. When I was given the chance to return to New Song for a second summer, I took it but this time with the intention of focusing more on relationships. I prayed, “God, help me to see more of your presence.” I wanted to see God’s glory in every aspect of my experience. Having this disposition helped me learn how the “ministry of presence” plays a powerful role in the work of reconciliation. I found that making myself available to spend time with people meant more to them than my passion for working in urban ministry. By the end of my second summer at New Song I felt confident that genuine relationships had been formed. The contrast between relationships in my first and second summers helped me to understand how much relationships matter in the development and maintenance of reconciliation ministries.
After graduation from Duke Divinity School I was offered the opportunity to return to New Song for a full-time position as director of education for the newly formed College & Career Program (CCP). This program was created to serve New Song Academy (K-8) graduates with academic assistance through high school and to aid them in the college admissions process. Because I have a passion for youth development and had some established history with the community, I saw New Song as the perfect location to fulfill my calling. I knew that I would continue to experience the ministry of reconciliation by deepening relationships with members of the community, but I was not prepared to have to work through reconciliation issues on my job this time involving race and age. Focused on the task of running a program, I once again neglected the need to develop a genuine relationship with my co-worker. The tensions that arose from a lack of relationship also bred feelings of distrust.
We had differences not only in race and age but also in work styles and perspectives on the community, the students, and the program. I approached my work through the lens and training of CFR, which drew from Christian Community Development Association. My co-worker’s lack of adherence to these pedagogies was offensive to me. I could not understand how one could enter into ministry at a place like New Song and not seek to understand the social and political strongholds that plague urban communities.
But even now, I am reminded of my same apprehensions regarding matters of race and economics during my first year of divinity school. I had to learn to examine my heart and refrain from judgmental attitudes that assumed the worst of my co-worker’s intentions. Through this relationship I have been challenged to put my hope in the work of the cross and receive the proclamation that in the cross hostility is put to death (Ephesians 2:16).
Reconciliation is a journey of the heart; it requires us to expose our places of vulnerability and brokenness with the hope of seeing God’s power transform and equip our lives for effective ministry. The reluctance I had to discuss matters of race and economics during the beginning of my divinity school career reflected unresolved issues in my heart, and maybe even a degree of fear about wrestling with my own brokenness and the brokenness of the body of Christ. Yet after being at New Song I see that brokenness in relationships exists in many different forms. We cannot limit the work of reconciliation to social agendas, but must put our trust in God’s Word, which assures us that those in Christ are reconciled to God. With Christ’s presence we can overcome the tensions and divides; through Christ’s power all brokenness is healed; and with Christ’s love we are able to forgive and trust. The process of receiving and embracing these truths has been my transforming journey of reconciliation.
Pauli Murray in the World
This mural in downtown Durham, N.C., honors the vision and legacy of activist, scholar, feminist, poet, Episcopal priest, and Durham resident Pauli Murray. The mural was part of a collaborative art project that engaged over 1,500 Durham residents. Duke Divinity School professor Mary McClintock Fulkerson is currently involved in the “Pauli Murray Project: Activating History for Social Change,” a Duke Human Rights Center project on racial healing and reconciliation in Durham County through history-telling. See www.paulimurrayproject.org  for more information.