In a message that was at once encouraging and provocative, the Rev. Rhashell D. Hunter, director of Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, challenged worshipers at Montreat Conference Center’s summer Sunday worship series to do their part to grow the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in diversity.
Preaching a sermon on Galatians 3:28 — on equality in Christ — entitled “When Your Identity Changes,” Hunter said, “To be sure, we are all a series of many parts, but these parts do not define us. We are known by the Christ in us. We are sisters and brothers in the family of God.”
In interpreting the Biblical text in which she said “religious discrimination is terminated, social discrimination is eradicated and sexism does not have a place,” Hunter gave examples of such modern-day prophets and trailblazers: a little girl — herself — who helped to desegregate the schools she attended in Dallas, Texas, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached from the same place in Montreat’s Anderson Auditorium in August 1965.
“A young boy who grew up in the segregated South — who watched his family and community suffer indignities simply because they were of a different race — once said to his mother, ‘You know, when I get to be a man, I’m going to hit this thing and I’m going to hit it hard. There is no such thing as one people being better than another. God made us all equal, and I’m going to see to that,’” Hunter said of King’s experience.
Hunter is a member of a committee planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of King’s presentation in August 2015.
Since the occasion of King’s historic sermon, Hunter said that while there has been growth in the number of the PC(USA)’s racial ethnic congregations and its overall church membership, “it’s clear we aren’t where we want to be but we aren’t where we used to be either.”
Hunter said the call to build God’s beloved community is beyond the capabilities of any one person. “It is all of our work,” she said. “But we do not have to do it alone. God is with us.”
As she then admitted to moving from “preaching into meddling,” Hunter issued a challenge, asking, “What will it take for beautiful Montreat to be more diverse?”
Following Hunter’s message, Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the PC(USA) — who, with his wife, Peggy, resides in Montreat — led the community in an affirmation of faith from the Belhar Confession. Program notes indicated that the Assembly “overwhelmingly approved adding [the confession] from South Africa to the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — a statement on justice and reconciliation written under the shadow of apartheid.”
The worship also marked the final Communion service celebrated by the Rev. Robert Tuttle, vice president of the Center for Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Mountain Retreat Association, who will retire Aug. 1 after more than 27 years of serving the conference center. Tuttle will be succeeded by the Rev. Carol Steele, currently senior associate of the Center for Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Summer Sunday worship in Anderson Auditorium continues through Aug. 3.