Guest post by Rachel Baum, Monticello
We have spent much of our SHA time reflecting on the need to adapt and respond to the shifting needs of our communities in an era of rapid change. “Be nimble!” we tell ourselves. How wonderful, then, to have this quality modeled by our SHA leaders as they recognized and embraced an unexpected opportunity which appeared (quite literally) in our own backyard.
It all started on the Friday of our first week, when faculty member David Young happened to mention the Right Reverend Richard Allen, the 18th century founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. By Saturday, SHA coordinator John Durel observed a historic AME church a stone’s throw from our hotel. On Sunday, several of our classmates chose to attend services there. They were warmly welcomed by the congregation and its pastor, Rev. Carey Grady. Chatting after worship, Rev. Grady shared that he had majored in history at Howard University and that he had interned at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He took our classmates on a tour of the historic church building and showed them the church’s archives.
Rev. Grady also shared that he has a dilemma: while the congregation would like to preserve their historic structure and pay homage to their church’s rich and significant history, the building is literally falling down around them and its repair is sapping the congregation’s financial resources. What to do?
John Durel acted on this opportunity to make a connection between SHA and the local Indy community. He contacted Brent Leggs, our faculty member for a session on Grassroots Leadership, and Brent agreed to co-present his session with Rev. Grady.
The result? This Tuesday, we had the honor and privilege to visit the church, to meet with their historian Sister O.J., to hear about their ideas and plans for preserving and interpreting their history, and to consider Bethel Cathedral AME Church as a real-life case study. I know I personally felt humbled when asked to analyze this complex situation and to make some recommendations. Working with a real-life situation felt very different from the fictional case studies we had encountered in class. We learned a great deal from the experience, and I hope that some of our ideas will prove useful to the church.
Reflecting back on what it means to be nimble, I can see that this particular case involved many factors: serendipity, proximity, awareness, observation, curiosity, courage, connection, flexibility, and hospitality, to name a few. Depending on your faith perspective, you might also see a higher power at work here as well.
As a result of nimbleness, we had an enriching and authentic experience to help us understand the meaning of grassroots leadership. I would like to thank the people of Bethel Cathedral AME Church, and the people of SHA, for making that possible.