With an interest in multicultural community, arts, and distributive justice, senior Josh Clough (T ’12) is about to embark on his next ministerial adventure, this time in West Kauai, Hawaii.
District Superintendent Tom Choi began conversations with Dean Kuan months ago about bringing seminarians to Hawaii as part of an effort to invigorate United Methodist Churches in a district without accredited seminaries. West Kauai United Methodist Church came to the table in search of a pastor. A small rural and racially mixed congregation made up of mainlanders, established, and indigenous Hawaiians, West Kauai UMC is located on Hawaii’s “garden” island in the small town of Kekaha, the most westward village in the United States. Like many small, aging congregations, West Kauai UMC finds itself diminishing in numbers and in need of new ideas. They interviewed Josh by video conference.
“Thriving congregations are not necessarily about numbers, but about fresh perspectives,” says Josh. “A creative sense of justice is something that can re-envision a church.” Josh turns to the metaphor of poetry to explain his theology and role as a pastor. “This is about mutuality, reciprocity, and the artistic creativity of a community. Theopoetics meets God and sees God in places that perhaps we would not have thought God to exist.” Among the assets of the congregation is a publishing project, collecting songs the community has written or rewritten into a hymnal. Another asset is the congregation’s open mindedness and willingness to embrace a young pastor. During their video chats, Josh felt what he describes as “a genuine joy and love shared amongst the congregation, and an interest in my development as a young pastor.” It will be a good place, Josh thinks, to feel supported and challenged.
At college on the west coast, Josh heard from friends about the dynamics of race, class, ownership and tourism that plaque Hawaiian life. “In a multicultural context, I feel it is my job to come and listen, hear what the community is saying, and then act with them on some of these issues.” Josh claims the value of redistributive reconciliatory justice, which he describes as reading the community, assessing tensions and struggles, and helping the congregation engage the surrounding community to mobilize resources that may be right under their noses. Josh attributes this understanding of asset based community development to his experience as a Shalom intern in Haiti.
“What I learned in organizing through Communities for Shalom has prepared me to cross racial boundaries, even gender boundaries, and has helped me better understand how God moves through communities as they act together to create the beloved community.” Josh reflects that it was the humbling experience of not being in the racial or cultural majority in Haiti that taught him how to listen to the community. That’s how he encountered what he calls a “theology of abundance” even in places with histories of extreme poverty. “These communities have the ability to do justice regardless. They taught me what it means to work in a world of beaurocratic machines, institutions that get in the way of justice.”
Josh spent two months in Misak, Haiti during the summer of 2010 as a community organizer with Shalom helping church and neighborhood leaders to vision, plan, and strategize about how to build their community. “I did a lot of porch sitting. There was a need to connect issues of sexual health with issues of poverty. We learned in conversations with both men and women, that there is a need to talk about HIV AIDs. That young people and women need to have access to condoms. That in so many places of the developed and underdeveloped world, men control women’s access to reproductive health.”
In conversations with students back at Drew, Josh found in his classmates a desire to return to Misak to have conversations with the residents there about HIV/AIDs and violence. They brought back resources, unloading 8 large suitcases filled with supplies as mundane as baby kits, vitamins, and latex gloves at a clinic that operates only with what visitors can bring. Josh found resistance from Drew administration about the dangers and liabilities of bringing a group of students to Haiti. But they went anyway. And the trip was so successful that they planned a second. This time they partnered with a local high school and elementary school, working with two Haitian-led arts organizations: Haitian Artisans for Peace International, and Living Media International. They taught an art class and hosted a women-only conference with Dr. Traci West. Josh hopes that even though he’s graduating, and in spite of the university’s concerns, the trip might continue.
In 2011, Josh received the Graybeal Community Ministry Award to help with this year’s Haiti trip. On April 19, 2012, he received the Drew and Do award from the Center for Civic Engagement. Born and raised in Seattle, Josh went to college at Willamette Univerisity in Salem, Oregon. After his graduation ceremony in 2009, he packed his truck and drove across the country to what would be his next big adventure at Drew. And in just a few weeks, he will turn around and do it again. –Lydia York, PhD Student in Theological and Philosophical Studies, and TheoSpirit Co-editor