Genuine relationships and long-term commitments

Together with Louisville leaders, PC(USA) agencies and entities explore deeper engagement

by Mark Koenig, Administrative Services Group | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, is the national headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE ­— Genuine relationships and a long-term commitment are key. That message was clearly stated during a conversation about community partnerships between Black community leaders in Louisville and leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) agencies and entities held on July 28.

When the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) moved to Louisville in 1988, expectations were high for the church’s impact on the city. In some ways those expectations were met. The church brings visitors to the city and provides income tax to its coffers. Individuals take part in congregations, nonprofits and other organizations. Helping resettle refugees, protesting the killing of Breonna Taylor, and supporting efforts to address cash bail have been areas in which Presbyterians working at the Presbyterian Center have engaged in community concerns.

Still, the PC(USA) has not fulfilled its potential as an anchor institution supporting Louisville, particularly the BIPOC community in Louisville.

Multiple factors are coalescing that may lead to change. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), has long advocated for engagement in Louisville. The PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 vision invites congregations, mid councils and other organizations to dismantle structural racism and eradicate systemic poverty. General Assembly actions have emphasized work toward diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. Events of racial injustice in the city and around the country have touched hearts and seared consciences.

Confessing that the church is late to become involved and acknowledging that it is always the time to do the right thing, leaders of PC(USA) agencies and entities took a first step to deeper engagement in Louisville by arranging the meeting with community leaders.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell, who recently rotated off the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation board, introduced Nikki Lanier, founder of and CEO of Harper Slade, to Kathy Lueckert, President of A Corporation.

Harper Slade is a racial equity advisory firm. Its definition of racial equity guides its work: “Proportional fairness that takes into full account the cultural and historic realities facing people of color, as distinct from all other people, and works to remedy the same.”

Lanier and Lueckert planned a meeting to explore community partnerships. Black and brown leaders from community development organizations, financial institutions, and nongovernmental organizations participated. Leaders of A Corporation, the Office of the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Presbyterian Foundation, the Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and Presbyterian Women took part.

The conversation began with introductions and descriptions of the work of the various organizations represented. As it continued, ideas were generated for possible areas of partnership. Small business support including mentoring and internships, assistance with affordable housing, investment possibilities, sharing skills people need to start and grow businesses, and advocacy on the local and state level were among the topics discussed. Creative and supportive uses of the space at the Presbyterian Center seemed to offer possibilities for partnership.

For all the intriguing generative ideas on the table, two factors remained clear. Significant engagement between Presbyterians and the Louisville community requires deep, genuine relationships with the people, listening to what the people want and need, and hearing their challenges, hopes, and visions. And it requires a long-term commitment.

The meeting went longer than intended. When it ended, participants expressed appreciation for this first step and interest in further conversations that will begin to build the long-term relationships that can have a positive impact on the city and the church.

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