|New leader shares vision for racial justice agency|
Erin Hawkins, newly installed top executive of the United Methodist Commission
on Religion and Race, gives her first address to the agency's board.
UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 10, 2007 | OKLAHOMA CITY (UMNS)
The commission charged with "building a beloved community" must
become the heart of The United Methodist Church, said Erin Hawkins, the
newly installed top executive of the church's racial justice agency.
"As the heart of the church, we will serve the primary function of
pumping life into and throughout the body of United Methodism," she
said. "The life of this church is the people who represent all colors,
nationalities and languages."
Katelyn Sutfin, 10, signs the Lord's Prayer during the opening worship service.
Hawkins, 31, became the head of the United Methodist Commission on
Religion and Race on Sept. 1. She was welcomed and installed as top
executive during the Oct. 3-7 fall board meeting in Oklahoma City.
With "35 days, 12 hours, and 47 minutes" under her belt, Hawkins
charted a bold course for the agency during her first address to the
"Jesus taught that love of God and love of humanity are the central
tenets of the Christian faith," she said. "The Bible says that the
person who claims to love God and does not love their neighbor is a
Hawkins said the great commandment places the commission and its ministry of anti-racism at the center of the church.
During Hawkins' installation dinner, Bishop Linda Lee, president of
the commission, said, "Lead on, general secretary, lead with boldness,
with all the passion you have in your heart."
"Christ is with us, and we can lean on Jesus," Lee said. "It is time for a change of heart."
The Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatem, board member from the Northeast
Jurisdiction, said moving the agency's work from the fringe to the
middle of church life will be difficult but that the time is right.
"When people have a heart attack, that is when they start taking care of
the heart. We are in the midst of a major heart attack here; we need to
care for the heart," said Tatem.
Commission President Bishop Linda Lee receives a shawl and basket as gifts from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
The board approved a summary report of the strategic plan for 2007-2012 as a working draft, including four goals to:
Educate and mobilize people to challenge racism throughout the church and the world;
Engage leaders to work as partners to eradicate racism;
Develop and support inclusive, multicultural leadership;
Advocate for human dignity, compassion and hospitality for all racial/ethnic groups.
"It is our dream to be a non-racist denomination," said Ilda Vasquez,
a board member from the South Central Jurisdiction who worked on the
strategic plan. "That's a pretty huge dream, but we would like to see a
rainbow of colors on every board and agency, equal representation,
voices heard and not ignored — just an equal place at the table."
Areas of focus
Hawkins outlined five areas of focus for the agency through 2008 as
she asked board members to work to change the commission from "a small,
expendable agency" on the fringes to the "hub of ministry for the entire
Internally, Hawkins plans to realign the board and staff, casting a
critical eye at way the board uses its time during and between meetings
and working to place staff in positions where their gifts and talents
can be used more effectively.
“After 40 years of faithful service, it is time for us to begin doing a new thing in new ways.”–Erin Hawkins
The proposed staff structure would assign each of five associate
general secretaries to one area of focus: internal operations, research
and monitoring, advocacy, education and training, and communications and
The second area of focus is to review and retool ministries to
monitor United Methodist entities to ensure equal racial and ethnic
participation in the life of the church. Hawkins plans to assess ways
annual conferences, churchwide agencies and theological schools are
reviewed so the information can be better used by both the entity and
"The meetings we hold with racial ethnic constituencies is often very
illuminating and an important part of the process," she said. "My hope
is that we will retool the review process so that, although it may yield
findings that are uncomfortable for the parties being reviewed, it is
seen as a service that we are able to provide to these entities to give
them an alternative point of view regarding their operations and provide
the foundation for future partnerships that help them reach their goals
with greater ease and proficiency."
The third area of focus is to jumpstart the commission's research and
evaluation process. In 2008, the commission will begin working with the
Commission on the Status and Role of Women to hire a shared staff person
for this task. "We must ensure that our evaluation process does not
make the agency vulnerable in the future," Hawkins said.
Native American storyteller Raggatha
Rain Calentine weaves a story for commission members.
Hawkins has set a goal of raising at least $1 million for the Woodie
White Endowment during the denomination's next four-year budgeting
period beginning in 2009. The fund was established in 2003 to support
the ministry of racial justice.
The fifth area of focus is to prepare for the 2008 United Methodist
General Conference, the church's top legislative body, meeting next
spring in Fort Worth, Texas. The commission will partner with the
Commission on the Status and Role of Women to provide cultural
sensitivity training for the conference delegates.
The racial justice agency also will celebrate its 40th anniversary during the churchwide meeting.
'Peace, be still'
Using Mark 4:35-5-1, Hawkins compared the board's current challenges
to those faced by the disciples as they were on a small boat in the Sea
of Galilee threatened by strong winds and high waves.
In fear, the disciples went to a sleeping Jesus and asked, "Why do you sleep when we are about to lose our lives?"
Jesus quieted the wind and the waves with a command: "Peace, be still."
"I believe Christ is beckoning to us, saying, 'Come let us go to the
other side,'" Hawkins said. "After 40 years of faithful service, it is
time for us to begin doing a new thing in new ways."
Board members present Hawkins with a blanket during her installation dinner.
Hawkins said the commission will face storms as it confronts racism.
"We must claim the non-anxious presence of the savior in the midst of
turbulence," she said.
Citing alarming statistics of a world where 3 billion people live on
less than $2 a day, where every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria and
where an estimated 38.6 million people were infected with AIDS by the
end of 2006, Hawkins said the commission is being called to go to the
other side to face a world of brokenness and pain.
"In the spirit of the great mandate that lies before us and with the
reassurance of a God that is calling us to have faith that we will be
delivered safely through the storms of change and resistance, I say to
you, members and staff and friends of the Commission on Religion and
Race, 'Come, let us go to the other side.'"
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ilda Vasquez: “The dreams and hopes are for a non-racist denomination.”
The Rev. Dorothy Watson Tatem: “We need to care for the heart.”
Erin Hawkins: “We will be confronted with storms as people try to silence our voice.”
Erin Hawkins: “All are welcome at God’s table.”
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