Participants witness powerful moments at Christian conference

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Rev. Danielle DeNise is director of evangelical missions for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She’s based at synod headquarters in Salisbury.

“Stories and testimonies were so powerful,” DeNise said of the recent “Why Christian?” conference at Duke University. “I was there with several friends who land all over the theological map, and yet stories made conversations flow and created sacred space for God to continue to move among us.

“Perhaps the most powerful moment for me was in the breakout with Austin Channing Brown. She was asked, ‘What do you hope for your 9-month-old son?’

“As someone with a 14month-old-son, my ears perked up,” DeNise said. “Her answer was, ‘For him to live.’ The interviewer asked, ‘You mean to live with joy, purpose?’ And she responded, ‘That seems like a bonus. As a mom of a black/brown baby, I’m not guaranteed days.’ My heart felt my own white privilege in a new way as I have never seen it. And yet it also gave me new words to pray for mommas — prayers for life, long days, secure futures.

Kaye Brown Hirst is a longtime Sunday school teacher at Organ Lutheran Church, the congregation she’s been a part of her whole life. Her sister, Amy Brown, invited her to attend “Why Christian?” so she boarded her dogs and took off to Durham.

“I wanted to hear Nadia and stretch my horizons to some new ideas and theology,” said Brown, who serves as a deacon at Trinity Lutheran Church in Greenville, South Carolina.

“My congregation is not a liberal congregation,” Hirst said. “It’s been fascinating to be surrounded by so many liberals, because I am more liberal. I’ve been so impressed with all of the speakers’ testimonies and where they’ve come from in their lives. I look at the way things were when I grew up. I went through eight grades in school before we were integrated.

“I think we still need to be more inclusive,” Hirst said. “Most congregations in our community try to be inclusive, but we’re not there yet. There are so many people here from every walk of life, lifestyle and sexual orientation who are here to worship the same God.”

The Rev. Shannon Mullen has attended “Why Christian?” since 2015. He and the Rev. Rhodes Woolly, senior pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, were part of Lutheridge’s summer staff in the 1980s. Although it features women’s speakers, it is not a women’s conference, Mullen said.

“All these people were standing up and telling stories, and I wanted to hear those stories. It’s more inspirational than educational to me,” he said.

Mullen serves in Beaufort, South Carolina, in a mostly white Lutheran congregation. Attending the conference, he said, “gives me courage to tell about lives more difficult than those in my congregation.”

— Susan Shinn Turner