July 13, 2017
Dear Oak Life Church Family,
When we started discerning what kind of community God might be forming in and through us, we embraced the invitation be be a beautiful mess- a place where all of us can enter into the ways of Jesus together. In our short time together we've grown from a handful of people in an apartment not knowing what was next, to a wonderfully eclectic body that has become and is still becoming a church. We've been kicked out of a church network on account of our inclusiveness, we've chosen to give 1/4 of our Sunday offerings away to outside organizations, we've consistently served alongside others at schools, creeks, urban farms, shelters, and more. We've dedicated babies, we've celebrated weddings, we've grown to be able to hire a second staff person, we've heard each other's stories, we've hosted seminary interns, we've created space for all of our voices in every Sunday gathering, we've sent teams to serve oversees, we've befriended and supported a local homeless camp, we've hosted pastors from other countries and churches, and we've done our best to be a place where the margins are embraced and the centers are challenged. All of this has come out of our desire to become the embodied presence of Jesus to one another and to our world.
As I look back on all the stories of Oak Life, I'm beyond humbled and amazed.
But we're not perfect.
I'm not perfect.
And that's what this letter is about.
Last Sunday we hosted Pastor, Author, and thought-leader Ken Wytsma at our Sunday gathering. Ken is a friend and is connected to us through a fantastic organization that we share an office with. About two weeks ago I received a text from a mutual friend informing me that Ken would be in town and that he was open to speaking at Oak Life if we were interested. Since the time our friend Rachel completed her residency with us in May, I've been reaching out to lots of people to help share the teaching load because I should not, and do not want to be, the only speaker at Oak Life. Fortuitously, we've started a teaching team that held its inaugural meeting the same Sunday Ken spoke. So because of my deep respect for Ken and his work, I jumped at the chance of having him share with us and we began texting back and forth. Ken asked what we'd like him to share about and I suggested he talk about the content from his most recent book, The Myth of Equality. Ken agreed and that was where our planning stopped. This is also where my error lay.
In the past when we've discussed topics connected to race and inequality I've always sought the input of others to help frame the conversation or to invite pastors or community members who are people of color to lead it altogether. This time around I did not reach out to others or gather perspective on thoughtful ways to engage an immensely complicated, painful, and sensitive subject. As a result the framing of Sunday's conversation were problematic and, in my opinion, a misstep. While Ken's content was engaging, informative, challenging, and well presented, I did not consider the optics and power dynamics of having two white men, one of them an outsider to our city, teach a diverse congregation on the subject of inequality and race. Consequently, some of us were hurt or set off by the nature of the service and for that I'm deeply sorry. While I think Ken did a fine job, and while many people responded positively to our conversation, there were enough who were rightfully upset by the way we/I formatted the morning. I was flippant in my handling of a topic that absolutely requires thoughtfulness. That night as I received more comments, emails, and feedback than I've received from any other Sunday service, my heart was, and still is, grieved that my actions caused others pain. For my carelessness, for my privilege which allowed my carelessness and insulated me what should have been obvious, I confess my sin and I ask the forgiveness of our community. If I've hurt you, I'm deeply sorry.
I am not writing this letter to receive a pat on the back or in order to spin what happened on Sunday. This conversation could have and should have been better. I take full responsibility for this and, as sincerely as I can, I repent.
As our emerging speaking team met after service it was clear that this subject is one that should be discussed further and we're committed to doing so. Next Sunday, the 23rd, we'll be organizing a special Stories Sunday where many of the folks who shared in service will share more about their experiences. This Sunday I'll be sharing some of what I'm sharing here. Additionally, our Leadership Team and Speaking Team will be working to facilitate deeper reflection and action around these subjects.
Finally, if you've been hurt, triggered, or upset by the way I organized this conversation I owe you a personal apology. If you'd like to talk to me directly about this, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, we deeply value the feedback and perspective of our community. If you'd like to share your thoughts, comments, or questions with our Leadership Team, feel free to email us: email@example.com
It is my prayer that Oak Life continues to form into a community of healing, hope, love, faith, and grace. As God continues to grow and shape our church, would you also pray for us?
Lead Sinner of Oak Life Church