By: Jasmin Figueroa
June 22, 2017
I watched in awe as other leaders shared their joy and relief that they were “not alone,” undoubtedly encouraged, as I was, by one another.
Eleven days after my seminary graduation, I boarded a plane to Atlanta for the Forum for Theological Exploration’s 2017 Christian Leadership Forum. While I was already excited to join my cohort and meet scholars whose work I admire, I walked away from the Forum feeling thankful for an additional gift: FTE’s hospitality that demonstrated that I was welcomed, honored and affirmed as a member of this community of Christian leaders.
To be clear: by “hospitality,” I am not talking about material comforts (as grateful as I was for our accommodations). In my eyes, the most meaningful indicator of FTE’s hospitality was its intentionally curated spaces for us to just…be. In the weeks prior to the forum, Dr. Patrick Reyes, the director of strategic partnerships for doctoral initiatives, cited theologian Rubem Alves when communicating his hope that we would “…take time to care for [ourselves],” in the days prior to the Forum, “so that we can be fully together.” He knew that in our respective roles, we faced heavy responsibilities and constant pressures to perform, so we rarely received opportunities to rest. Patrick’s permission to do so was the first of many liberative moments that I experienced at the forum.
Other invitations followed. We were invited to to “take off [our] shoes,” and acknowledge that the spaces that we occupied, our theological wrestling and our discussion topics were holy; and we were invited to meet other scholars, ministers, discerners and non-profit leaders from around the world.
I noticed right away that the majority were people who had experienced marginalization in some way, but we were not disparaged in this space.
Instead, our God-given authority and prophetic gifts were recognized and lifted up, and for the first time in a long time, I felt rejuvenated and confident in my call. At the end of my experience, I watched in awe as other leaders shared their joy and relief that they were “not alone,” undoubtedly encouraged, as I was, by one another.
The Academy and the Church can be painful, isolating spaces, but coming to the Forum was a balm for my weary soul. As an un-ordained, feminist, millennial Latina from the Bronx, I have grown tired from navigating spaces that struggle to live into their self-professed call to cultivate hospitality for people like at the margins, so it was was healing for me to spend four days in a space that acknowledged my pain, affirmed me in my particularity, and offered respite, wisdom and hope for the journey ahead. Since the Forum, I feel encouraged to move forward in my call as a pastor and practical theologian, and empowered to create similar places where people who have experienced marginalization can find rest for their own journeys. Because of the respite that I experienced with FTE, I am reminded that I am not alone cherishing these spaces and valuing hospitality—and that I have a multitude of partners who are doing their own version of in this work in the world.