GATES — Brenda Easley Webb asked the 30 participants of an urban ministry listening session last month to pair up and discuss the question each person had written down on a Post-it note.
“You came here for a reason,” Webb said before assigning them the active listening exercise. “What is the one thing you hope to have an answer for today?”
The challenge for each pair was allowing one person at a time to respond to her question for two minutes without interruption from the other person, Webb said.
Following the exercise, some of the people acknowledged how difficult it had been to stay quiet while the other person spoke.
The exercise “brings to your awareness the importance of silence, the importance of holding someone’s story sacred,” she said.
“It helps to listen,” noted Father Peter Deckman, who retired earlier this year as parochial vicar of Rochester’s Holy Apostles and Holy Family parishes.
Webb, who served 19 years as the Diocese of Buffalo’s director of black ministry until the ministry was replaced in 2007 with a new cultural diversity office, led the Sept. 30 discussion at the diocesan Pastoral Center’s Bishop Hickey Conference Center. The gathering was the first of several listening sessions that urban ministry, which is part of diocesan Parish Support Ministries, plans to hold, said Deacon John Brasley, who coordinates PSM’s Urban Services.
When reviewing the questions at the Sept. 30 session, Webb said that she noticed many had similar themes about inclusion and diversity and how to adapt to changing cultural needs as a diocese.
“You need to know yourself and you need to know what Jesus is calling you to do,” Webb said. “Be the hands of Christ in the world.”
To bring his message to the world, we also need to be excited about our faith, she remarked.
“There are all kinds of problems in the church, but my faith is greater than that,” Webb said. “We’re called to be disciples, not just worshippers. We are here to carry God to the world. … Are you willing to do that? That’s a powerful mandate.”
She said that Christians can start small by initiating small-group discussions among people who are diverse.
“How often do you move outside your comfort zone to be the only one in a group?” she asked the participants. “Quite often, I’m the only black person anywhere. That’s no problem because I know who I am and what I am called to be.”
Catholics also need to heed Jesus’ command in the Gospels to love our neighbors as ourselves, she added. Because if we can open ourselves to our neighbors, we can begin a dialogue that will create understanding between different people, Webb explained.
“You have to start somewhere if you believe change needs to be made,” Webb said. “But you need to begin with prayer.”
Rose Marie Lombard, director of outreach and evangelization for the Urban Center at Holy Apostles Church, said unity cannot exist if groups in church see each other as “them and us.”
“We are the church,” she said. “If we want the church to be inclusive … we need to be inclusive.”