Portland will become a national epicenter for progressive Christians this week when it plays host to the United Church of Christ's national Convocation on Racial Justice, titled "God is Still Seeking Racial Justice." The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, whose columns on racial and social justice are often printed in The Skanner, will be among the convocation's featured speakers.
The gathering takes place from Nov. 10 through 13 at the Ambridge Event Center, 300 N.E. Multnomah St. It evolved out of plans to celebrate the retirement of the Rev. Dr. Hector E. Lopez, co-conference minister of the church's Central Pacific Conference. Lopez wasn't interested in a banquet or a party in his honor, said Andrea Cano, western regional organizer of UCC's Justice and Peace Action Network. Instead, she said, he wanted to go out the way he came in — focusing on pressing issues of racial, social and economic justice.
"Instead of having a big retirement party," said Cano, "(the Rev. Lopez) said, 'Let's have a convocation on racial justice and see where we are.' "
The convocation's four days will encompass a busy schedule of seminars, speeches, panel discussions, worship services, performances, breakout groups and workshops. Some of the topics to be discussed include "The Journey," with historical retrospectives on the nation's African American, Pacific Islander, Asian and Native American communities; "The Present," with presentations on modern multicultural ministries; and "The Future," with breakout discussions on the progress yet to be made in racial, social and economic justice.
The journey ahead will very much be a focus of the convocation. The United Church of Christ, which traces its roots back to the Mayflower pilgrims, has always made equality and justice a priority in its ministries, Cano said.
"We were part of the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement in the 1860s, and we are continuing our legacy in moving in a progressive direction," Cano said. "We helped to establish many of the major Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the South, and we have journeyed into being more inclusive as the demographics have changed in this country."
Although the UCC has long been a diverse denomination, Cano said, for many years it remained largely segregated into individual African American, European American, Latino American and other churches. About 20 years ago, she said, the Rev. Lopez advanced the policy that each congregation should strive to be culturally inclusive. She cited the Ainsworth United Church of Christ, Portland's most diverse and inclusive congregation, as an example of what the denomination is striving for.
But the church also has exerted itself toward the larger goal of equal justice outside its congregational walls. While the United States is certainly a more equitable place than it once was, Cano said, much progress remains to be made.
"The nature of racism changes as systematically as do the attempts to eradicate it," she said. "The expression of racism in one decade changes and shifts, so that it emerges as something else later on. When you think you've taken care of it, you haven't."
Readers of the Rev. Jackson's columns in The Skanner will recall that incidences of injustice in this country and around the world have been recurring themes for her.
"We're in the aftermath of two hurricanes, one of which devastated a whole region and forced the evacuation of a million people," the Rev. Jackson wrote in the Oct. 5 edition of The Skanner. "But while Americans were forced to look at the fault lines of race and poverty revealed by the disaster, we seem already to be denying what we saw with our own eyes.
We seem to be moving on to the next news item without dealing with the twin evils of racism and classism found not only in New Orleans, but across the nation."
The Rev. Jackson is slated to address the convocation at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12.
Ultimately, Cano said, the convocation is intended not only to develop a general assessment of the state of racial and social justice today, but to formulate practical solutions that people can put into effect in their everyday lives.
"One of the last plenary sessions is when people will offer some, hopefully, inspired solutions," she said. " … We've come together, we've listened, we've deliberated, we've decided, and now we're going to go back to our respective places and hopefully effect some change."
For a complete schedule of events and speakers, or to register for the convocation, visit cpcucc.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 503-228-3178. Registration cost is $75, and includes a Saturday evening banquet.