By Stan Friedman
SAN DIEGO, CA (February 11, 2013) – When Kanyere Eaton attended her first Midwinter Conference two years ago, the recently installed African-American pastor of Fellowship Covenant Church in Bronx, New York, and new to the Covenant sat in a shuttle from the airport with pastors – all of them white males.
“As I sat and looked around, the song from Sesame Street came back to me: “One of these things just doesn’t belong here. Tell me before my song is done. And I was the thing that didn’t belong here,” she told the multiethnic gathering of pastors at this year’s conference on Thursday night in a sermon that overflowed with confession, admonition, and inspiration.
“I even asked God tearfully, ‘What are you doing? What is this about?” she said.
Eaton doubted she would ever feel a sense of belonging in the Covenant and was mighty certain she didn’t want to, either.
Eaton said she was “very content to stay in my own silo community.” She was quite comfortable there, knowing the traditions and worship, including the songs, how they were to be sung, and the cadences of preaching. She wasn’t interested in intentionally multicultural worship. She had hoped to focus her life on developing the black community and then was elected pastor of the Evangelical Covenant congregation.
“God broke my stony heart open,” she confessed. “He broke my stony heart open. Your love is breaking my stony heart open.”
Her heart had begun to harden despite the compassion shown her family in the midst of racism that had tried to tell her family they didn’t belong. When she was born in 1965 and her parents had brought her home from the hospital in San Francisco, someone had put a cross in their front yard. But before the cross could be lit, a Swedish neighbor had removed it.
Eaton offered her confession as she shared how it was by God’s design and God’s arrangement that we are here together. It was one of the lessons she wanted the crowd to take with them, drawn from the twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. He had written to the sometime haughty church that they needed to remember just who had brought them together – and it wasn’t them.
Eaton knew she wasn’t the only person in the room who had struggled with her own haughtiness. “Before some of us were pastors, we looked at the role of pastor and said to ourselves, ‘Piece of cake. I could do that with my eyes closed’ . . . and I bet you’re not saying it now.”
She offered the reminder that despite a pastor’s privileges, gifts, education and social standing, “We are not of more value to our creator than anyone else for whom Jesus Christ died and rose.”
The laughter proved her point.
Eaton pushed forward, lamenting that we often don’t see the seeds of God’s love and gifting in others. Many times it is the people in whom we see little future who are the ones that go on to do more than we can imagine.
He will do the same with the Evangelical Covenant Church if it will continue to welcome one another, she said. You can’t throw me out – because you’re going to need me by and by. I can’t dismiss you, because God gave you the part I need to get where he wants me to go.”
She concluded by leading the gathering in singing to one another her adaption of a Nat King Cole classic – “Indispensable you.”