Fulfilling a promise he made during his annual conference episcopal address this year, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. convened the first Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity Task Force on Oct. 21 at the conference office in Topeka.
The purpose of the advisory task force, the bishop said, is to provide the cabinet and conference leaders with findings and recommendations that counteract unconscious bias, and reduce and eliminate discriminatory practices at all levels of the conference so the conference can leverage the full potential of our diverse clergy, laity and congregations.
“I believe the Great Plains United Methodists want to belong to a redemptive church that is open to people of all ages, nations, and races,” Bishop Saenz wrote in an email. “Through such a church, we grow and live in the light of our right relationship with God. The DEI advisory task force will aid our conference in fostering a diverse, inclusive and equitable church climate and culture that actualizes our desire through productive dialogues that tackle prejudice, increasing our cross-cultural awareness, and the practice of specific behaviors and skills that successfully shape an inclusive climate where everyone feels safe, cared for, welcomed, honored and valued for who they are.”
Thirteen clergy and one lay member are on the task force, as well as the Rev. Dr. Jan Todd, recently retired pastor, and assistant professor of sociology at Emporia State University. The Rev. Zach Anderson, Hays and Dodge City districts superintendent, is the cabinet liaison, and the Rev. Kathy Williams, clergy leadership development coordinator, is the facilitator.
“It is allowing us the opportunity to more fully address the importance of diversity and inclusivity in our conference and to develop actionable recommendations that can ensure equity in our practices and in our policies,” Williams said. “It allows us to really make sure that we’re valuing the humanity of all people who are serving in God’s ministry.”
Williams, who began her newly created position in January, said she is excited about the formation of the task force and wants everyone who serves in the conference and the denomination to serve in a manner that God has called them.
“We need to be very intentional about how we value other people and the practices that we institute and implement as an example of that,” she said.
The group will meet monthly, mostly over Zoom, until the annual conference session in 2023, Williams said.
Rev. Reuben Langat, pastor of Clay Center UMC in Kansas, said he appreciated the conference and Bishop Saenz for the formation of the task force.
“This is something that is, for us, making the conference become diverse and welcoming,” he said. “The conference is creating room for different voices, different people to be here.”
Langat said he hopes it will bring more acceptance and inclusivity to the conference.
“Everyone is invited and welcomed at the temple,” he said. “That way we can be more fit to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Rev. Hyemi Jones, pastor of Shawnee Monticello UMC, also commended the bishop and the conference for the task force.
“It’s very progressive at the conference level and it’s very encouraging,” she said. “We are collecting voices and thoughts and plans and data.”
Jones said her goal was to start active inclusivity at the conference level.
“It’s a foundation to build something on,” she said.
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