Following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, a new conversation to engage Disciples in advocacy surfaced a need for connection. The efforts to network for Standing Rock protests and other crisis led to the creation of Disciples Public Presence.
Disciples Public Presence is a movement. After its beginnings in March of 2017 as an activity of the Upper Midwest region, it has gained enough momentum to bring together more than 60 Disciples from across the life of the denomination for conversations around how to spread the word about this work. (See a map of survey responses.)
Rev. Terri Hord Owens, general minister and president, said, “Ministry needs action. The Church needs to have not a group but a collective presence as Disciples, leading with the chalice.” She continued, “The most effective evangelism is showing how Jesus honors our humanity.”
A simple Facebook group helped connect and celebrate Disciples speaking up with teachers, with the poor, with those seeking asylum and more. Around this same time the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival was organizing at a grassroots level across the majority of states and many of these same Disciples came together for weekly calls on how to support the campaign.
The enthusiasm sparked hosts Rev. Dr. Laurie Pound-Feille of First Christian, Minneapolis, Rev. Dr. Dietra Wise Baker, program coordinator for advocacy and activism for National Benevolent Association, and Dr. Peter Heltzel of New York Theological Seminary to propose a conference for Disciples interested in advocacy. It is the result of sustained conversations about justice infrastructure over the last four years with ministry partners across the life of the Church including the Office of the General Minister and President, Disciples Theology Project, Disciples Home Missions, and the Reconciliation Ministry and National Benevolent Association.
Owens said, “I think this is about being Disciples and being a presence. You could almost phrase it as a ‘through line.’ When I am speaking out, I am Terri – dot, dot, dot – a Disciples public presence – with a little p.”
The 36-hour conference at the Upper Midwest’s Christian Conference Center focused on some common language about the ministry work of what is commonly called “justice.” Some of the conversation focused on ways to connect, worship/theological resources and some new education possibilities. During lunch there were small groups talking about specific issues from racism to peace.