By: Karla Hovde
Rev. Dana Neuhauser is joining the staff of the Minnesota Conference as its first racial justice organizer. An ordained deacon, she also serves as the minister of public witness at New City Church in Minneapolis.
In her new part-time role, Neuhauser’s work will have three main components:
Teaching on anti-racism: She will design and facilitate anti-racism learning modules for all Minnesota Conference clergy. This aligns with the commitments made by the conference’s Appointive Cabinet in its December 2020 statement on racial justice and reconciliation. She has already piloted this training with small groups of clergy and conference leaders on the Extended Cabinet. Over the next year, all clergy in the conference will go through this four-session training.
Training and resources: She will provide training and resources for cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments. For example, she would work with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee of a predominantly white congregation if a Black or Asian pastor was appointed there. She would provide training in cross-cultural communications and cultural expectations. Once the clergy person had started, she would help the congregation plan for cross-racial, cross-cultural ministry and would coach the clergy and lay leadership as they identify growth opportunities.
Support for clergy of color: Neuhauser will provide resources and support to clergy of color. She explained that, at times, it can feel isolating for clergy of color to navigate a culturally white institution. She will seek to notice and support their specific social, emotional, and spiritual needs. She plans to help create or grow supportive systems that nurture the particular needs of clergy of color.
Neuhauser has been involved in racial justice work for most of her adult life. In graduate school, she focused on diversity and inclusion. For the past five years, she has been part of a multi-faith coalition focused on dismantling white supremacy within faith institutions. At New City Church, part of her role has been to build community partnerships with affordable housing advocacy groups and to create curriculum for faith-based community organizing.
“As a biracial, Asian American growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, a Black majority city, I have been acutely aware of racial injustice my whole life,” said Neuhauser. “I’ve experienced the personal discomfort of dismantling internalized oppression and working to heal from racialized trauma.”
Neuhauser said that studying and practicing anti-racism, along with her personal experiences, has prepared her for this new role of accompanying others on a similar journey.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson, director of connectional ministries, explained that investing in this staff position aligns with our call to heal a broken world and the Minnesota Conference’s vision to “engage in the work of justice and reconciliation.”
“What we have learned is: While we have teams and initiatives around diversity, inclusion, and equity, to keep a consistent focus and make a longer-term impact, it matters to have a staff person whose responsibility it is to advance these initiatives,” said Gregorson.
Neuhauser pointed out that the Minnesota Commission on Religion and Race (MNCORR) has played a key role in advancing racial justice and intercultural initiatives in the conference and supported congregations in this work. But as more and more people wake up to the ongoing realities of racial injustice, church leaders will benefit from having a dedicated staff person to support them as they lead these important conversations.
“Without someone whose role is dedicated to supporting the work long-term and without a comprehensive approach, racial justice work will always slip back into the volunteer workload of a few,” said Neuhauser.
Neuhauser sees a key part of her role as equipping clergy to model and lead the work of racial justice. She said it is a common misconception that racial justice is only relevant for multiracial or predominantly Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) congregations. In fact, all United Methodists are called to join in the work of anti-racism.
“Racism is so persistent and so damaging that there can be no real healing without addressing it in ourselves, our churches, our communities, and the world,” Neuhauser said.
Neuhauser sees racial justice as a practice of growing in love of God and neighbor.
“Racism is sin and prevents the realization of the Kin-dom of God and harms both the oppressed and the oppressors,” she said. “As we practice anti-racism, we start to deconstruct the barriers that have been built over centuries that prevent flourishing for BIPOC people and communities. Those same barriers prevent us from having the complete love of God and neighbor fill our hearts.”
Quoting Dr. Cornel West, Neuhauser said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church