UTICA — The Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt and Elder Rick Ufford-Chase have founded The Center for Jubilee Practice in partnership with the Presbytery of Utica and Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary.
The mission of the Center for Jubilee Practice is to encourage Christian churches in the United States to develop concrete practices of reparations, watershed discipleship, full LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and respectful multi-faith partnership. Such practices of reparations have the potential to address and make amends for historic harm the church has caused or supported — intentionally or unintentionally — with Native Americans, African-Americans, among those who identify as LGBTQIA+, and in protection of the land itself in this unprecedented time of climate crisis.
DeTar Birt and Ufford-Chase and the associates of the Center for Jubilee Practice will provide accompaniment, assistance in discernment, encouragement and support to faith communities and judicatories to act boldly in sharing their commitment to these practices and their assets and resources.
The Rev. DeTar Birt said this is something she has dreamed of doing for years.
“As Christians, we can choose to take responsibility for much of the harm that we have created in this country through practices of settler colonialism that assumed Native Americans were not fully human and had no rights to their own well-being or to stay on their own land, and that took for granted the uncompensated labor of African Americans through chattel slavery,” said DeTar Birt.
“We have also actively excluded those whose sexual or gender identities don’t fall within our tightly prescribed norms. The Center for Jubilee Practice is built on our firm conviction that actively taking responsibility for this history is the foundational step toward creating healthy Christian communities.”
Elder Ufford-Chase said, “While we will focus our early energy in the Presbyterian Church (USA), we expect that this work will find traction in many other Christian denominations and communities as well. This is not a church growth project. Think of it as a church health project that has the potential to help our congregations and judicatories retool for an entirely different way of being the Church going forward.”
Recognizing the significance of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s call to create Matthew 25 churches and judicatories, the Center for Jubilee Practice is heavily invested in the work of creating vital congregations that have the strength, courage and spiritual health to take on the work of dismantling structural racism and ending systemic poverty.
“I am so excited to be a partner with the Center for Jubilee Practice,” said Elder Rick Riggle, moderator of the Presbytery of Utica.
“The church has always been called to reach out to the powerless and dispossessed around us,” said the Rev. Naomi Kelly, leader of “Weaving Home,” a New Worshipping Community in the Presbytery of Utica. “This is such a wonderful opportunity to learn and live into the future of the church. We are excited to partner with the Center to be keepers of the way of harmony with the earth, to raise our consciousness, and to follow the leading of the Spirit.”
Elder Larry Beasley, Presbytery Leader and Stated Clerk said the Presbytery of Utica is the perfect place for this initiative.
“We are, in many ways, emblematic of the situation in which many churches and Presbyteries find themselves,” Beasley said. “The Center for Jubilee Practice has the potential to re-shape what it means to be Christian here in the Presbytery of Utica and much of the rest of the church. We believe God is leading us towards a future in things that do not exist right now. Partnering with the center in their visionary effort to help the church find a new footing in this challenging time is the right thing to do. And now is the right time to do it.”
As a Founding Partner, the Presbytery of Utica is committing $300,000 from its reserve funds over three years in support of the Center for Jubilee Practice. The center will be incorporated and operational by mid-summer of 2021 and will be headquartered in the Utica area. The Center for Jubilee Practice’s website is www.jubileepractice.org,