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‘If anyone can bring the fire, it’s the people of God’

The Rev. Terri Hord Owens of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) kicks off Ecumenical Advocacy Days

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens

ARLINGTON, Virginia — Gathered in person for the first time since 2019, Ecumenical Advocacy Days’ 2024 Spring Summit got off to an inspired start Friday courtesy of the Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

EAD’s theme is “Faith in Action: Advancing Human Rights and Peace for All.” About 80 people are in attendance just outside the nation’s capital.

Drawing from a book she’s read and re-read, Walter Brueggemann’s “The Prophetic Imagination,” Hord Owens said she’s always glad to get the question: Terri, what excites you about the church?

“It’s when people dare to imagine that things can be different,” said Hord Owens, who was first elected to the DOC’s top office in 2017, the first person of color and the second woman to lead the denomination. “We are here because we want to do the work that allows us to bear witness to God’s limitless love.”

Hord Owens called her talk “Inside God’s Imagination” and used 1 Cor. 1:25-29 as her scriptural basis.

Growing up in the Progressive Baptist church her grandfather pastored, Hord Owens said what she saw of church in those days was “faith in action.” Her grandfather helped desegregate the southern Indiana community they lived in and received “a lot of death threats” for his efforts.

“It was people devoting themselves, despite personal danger and despite the critique of church members,” she said. “There is a price to pay for faith in action.”

To get inside God’s imagination, as Brueggemann suggests, “we have to understand just how big God is.”

Big enough that 60 years ago, the National Council of Churches sent hundreds of clergy to work during Freedom Summer, she noted. “People of faith has always put their bodies on the line,” she said. “I believe they did it because they believed in this God who was beyond their imagining. All we know of God is promise, possibility and love.”

“This work isn’t for the faint of heart,” Hord Owens cautioned. But “we do this work not just because it’s right, but because Jesus said to.”

“If anyone can bring the fire,” she said, “it’s the people of God.”

Young people “want to see us doing something. How are you speaking to poverty? LGBTQ inclusion? Racism? Christian nationalism? States ripping away at women’s reproduction rights? Humanity is being stepped on,” she said. “We’ve gotta put our big girl pants on.”

“I want to be used to bring about the reign of God on this Earth, and I know that’s what you want, too,” she said. “We can make a change in the name of Jesus the Christ. I stand ready to go with you,” Hord Owens said. “So, let’s go, church.”

In addition to the music provided by Jesse Lopedito and poetry by Lawrence Couch, a pair of faith leaders blessed those in attendance with their well wishes and greetings.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie

“This weekend, as we navigate through complex challenges and seek to address systemic inequities, it is imperative that we try again to find the spaces where we can stand united in our pursuit of social justice, peace and human dignity,” said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, President and General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. “I greet you in the precious name of the one who died and rose on our behalf.”

Rick Santos, president and CEO of Church World Service, which is sponsoring Ecumenical Advocacy Days, called the three-day gathering the opportunity “to be the EAD family we are. We are an ecumenical family because of our shared values.”

Rick Santos

Like EAD, the work of Church World Service “leans toward justice,” Santos said. The work is “not just about feeding hungry people and welcoming those who are displaced. It’s about God’s justice in the world.”

“We are together because we are driven by our faith,” Santos said. “We have justice as a foundation, and we do it with love, welcome and care for the most vulnerable.”

“Thank you for lending your voice, and for giving up your weekend,” Santos said. “Welcome to Washington. Let’s do God’s work.”

Saturday’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days’ schedule includes workshops, a prayer vigil at The Pentagon, and a plenary by the Rev. Dr. E. Michelle Ledder, an author and the assistant minister at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C.

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