Conference covers community issues

Calvin students and staff members joined with national leaders at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference, held this weekend in Detroit. Over three thousand attendees gathered to hear speakers, practitioners and community leaders share their experiences and insights.

As an intern with the CCDA, junior Noah Schumerth helped plan the conference over the summer and served as production management during the event itself. After collaborating with CCDA members from across the country for months, Schumerth enjoyed seeing the results of his work this weekend.  

“Even though I worked a ton, it was really neat to think about all the attendees and messages,” he said.

The conference offered workshops and lectures, as well as “Go and See” timeslots, where community development practitioners introduced attendees to the work happening in local neighborhoods. At places like Church of the Messiah Ministries, they could see the association’s 3 key principles relocation, redistribution and reconciliation  in action.

Schumerth appreciated this emphasis on locally-rooted ministry.

“It’s really the Spirit of God embodied, really lived out every day, not just in rhetoric, but in action.”

Associate Chaplain Joella Ranaivoson also attributed the conference’s vibrancy to the Holy Spirit’s working.

“The Holy Spirit marvelously used [the speakers] to convict and humble us and move us to repentance and confession,” she said.

Ranaivoson cited the morning and evening worship sessions, led by men and women of color, as a highlight. The musicians and dancers prepared attendees for the plenary lectures, which brought insights and challenges from sources including Seattle pastor Gail Song Bantum, Catholic sister Simone Campbell, civil rights leader John M. Perkins and immigration advocate Ali Noorani.

Ranaivoson also expressed gratitude for the words of Rev. Dr. Michael Waters and Michelle Higgins, both leaders in Christian work against racial oppression. Waters, a Dallas-based minister and activist, challenged his listeners to fight oppression while never forgetting to anticipate Christ’s return.

“Hearing Rev. Waters was like listening to a young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Ranaivoson said. “He has a powerful presence and conviction about him and the truths he was saying.”

Ranaivoson described St. Louis-based worship leader, activist and organizer Michelle Higgins as “fire.” As director of Faith for Justice (a Christian advocacy group) and co-chair of St. Louis Action (a multiracial activists group), Higgins connects faith communities to racial justice movements. She will speak on Oct. 13 in Calvin’s chapel at “Justice and the Mountain,” an event calling Christians to engage racial issues in light of the Beatitudes.

“She is a prophet who speaks the truth, and it cuts through our collective and individual self-deceptions,” Ranaivoson said. “And it hurts, but it’s healing to be disavowed of falsehoods.”

The event’s workshops allowed attendees to explore issues with a narrower focus, ranging in topic from mass incarceration to nonprofit grant navigation to urban evangelism. Schumerth, who attended an urban planning workshop entitled “The Cities We Need,” appreciated the conference’s inclusion of evangelism alongside other community issues.

“In terms of the church addressing social justice,” he said, “sometimes we forget about spiritual poverty.”

Though Calvin may not be one of the under-resourced communities the CCD serves, both Schumerth and Ranaivoson expressed a desire to bring the conference’s lessons into the college context. After a weekend hearing others who “remind” her of herself “in  bodies, their culture, their mannerisms, their way of worship,”  Ranaivoson explained her continuing desire to partner with those on the frontline of Christian community development.

We do hold considerable power [here at Calvin], positionally and culturally,” she said, “to encourage and challenge our community to keep leaning into being a place that seeks the flourishing of all our members, not just the majority, in the name of Jesus.”  

Schumerth appreciated the weekend’s practical focus, seeing it as an extension of the principles shaped in the college atmosphere.

“We do a really good job in college of teaching how to build a worldview,” said Schumerth. “But how do we go to making small steps happen every day? [Conferences like this] really do a good job of training people to do just that.”

Those interested in attending the 2018 conference, which will be held in Chicago, may contact Ranaivoson at [email protected].