Reflections on the Women’s Justice Panel from the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk

The Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk

The Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk had to cancel participating in the panel discussion at CHHSM’s Annual Gathering in Memphis due to a death in her congregation. She shared these thoughts with CHHSM, and we share them now with all of you.

By the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk

I am deeply honored that you invited me to be a part of this gathering that is holding together two concepts that are important to my journey and call: that of “grace and justice.” I regret that I will not be there in person as a result of a death in my congregation — New Macedonia Christian UCC.

I will be present in spirit in that my other sisters on the panel — Traci, Linda, Loey and Bernice — are intrinsically connected to my UCC leadership in social justice ministry. Together, we have guided and directed the justice agenda of the national church for the past 40 years (1980 to the present). Our ministries have been interconnected. Therefore, as we speak and share our stories, we share in the spirit of sisterhood. Each of us has been a part of the call and vocation of the other. I can truly say that in the spirit of the African concept ubuntu — “I am because they are and because they are, I can be also.” I am with you in Spirit and in my connection with each of my sisters on the panel.

In this written word, I offer the following about my leadership in social justice ministry. As I look back over 60 years of ministry and 80 years of life, both grace and justice have intertwined to impact my witness and my walk. I define justice as the love of God made visible in our hearts and then in our world. It is a relational concept and it is a systems concept. It is the Beloved Community that Dr. King spoke about when he lived and died for a world filled with justice and righteous flowing like an ever-present stream.

I define grace as the breath, the spirit of God that keeps flowing in my life enabling me to face every challenge, every obstacle, and trial giving me the strength and courage to keep pressing on. Grace is knowing that there is and continues to be a divine presence in my life, allowing me to achieve far more than I could ever have expected or imagined as a little girl growing up in racism and poverty in Norfolk, Va.

To share with you who and what is fundamental to my life in ways that has binding authority for what I do is to lift up the following:

My mother Cora Elizabeth Chambers Delk who kept me, and my sisters and brothers covered and anointed with prayer. She prayed for us each and every day. Every morning before we left the house, she prayed over us by name before God. There is something about hearing your name called and knowing that the power and protection of God will be around you — whatever you face — allowing you to survive whatever comes your way.

My church, Macedonia Christian United Church of Christ in Norfolk, Va. My mother joined in 1939 when she was pregnant with me. I have remained connected for my entire life. I joined at the age of 10 and I remain here in my senior years as a part of the ministerial staff. In a hostile environment, it surrounded my family with love, reminded us that we were created in God’s image, instilled in me a deep sense of pride and worth. It equipped me with skills and tools for making a difference. It called me by name and spoke a word over me and through me, reminding me that I belonged to God. When a word has been spoken over you — a word that gives you an identity, meaning and purpose — no one can ever reduce you to namelessness again.

Franklinton Center at Bricks. This was the retreat and conference center that I attended beginning at the age of 6 in summer camping programs. It came into being as a result of the Afro Christian Convention and the American Missionary Association which created   faith-based educational institutions in North Carolina immediately after the issuance of the emancipation proclamation. It was here that I was reminded that God had a call on my life. It was here that I was prepared and equipped for service to my church and community. It was here that the seeds were planted for my yes to God in ministry.

Franklinton Center at Bricks is located on the site of a former plantation. The cotton fields that held my ancestors in captivity continue to surround the buildings, the freedom paths walked by men, women and children for an education and new way of life are the same today as they were in the early 1900s. Today it remains a social justice retreat and conference center. Just as I received a justice call in this place in my youth, I continue to be on the Board as an elder offering wisdom and insight for its future.

These grounding spaces prepared me for my leadership in the national church. Over a period of 20 years – arriving in 1969 and leaving in 1989.

During that time, I offered leadership for the following:

  • The creation of a shalom curriculum for the denomination equipping our churches for ministries of justice, peace, wholeness.
  • The creation of a Christian education curriculum appropriate to the needs of African Americans in the decades of the 70’s and the 80’s.
  • A member of the UCC Women’s Inter-staff Team which brought us together as a team utilizing our position assignments from different ministry instruments to address issues of racism, sexism and hetero-sexism.
  • Participant in the Installation services of Robert Moss and Avery Post – charging each of them to implement the Social justice ministry of the Church.
  • Served as the Executive Director of the Office for Church in society from 1980-1989. In that capacity guided and directed across the life of the church the Just- peace Movement. Churches declared themselves Just Peace churches. Our Washington staff worked in partnership with ecumenical partners on legislation related to justice and peace. UCC members were equipped to advocate for local/state/ national Just peace policies.
  • Created a partnership with the National Welfare Rights Organization to advocate for justice policies for women and children who lived in poverty.
  • Served from 1985 to 1996 as the UCC appointed representative to the Programme to Combat Racism of the World Council of Churches. Worked with a committee of 25 persons from all regions of the globe; visited five continents to build alliances between movement groups and churches on issues of racial justice and the ending of apartheid in South Africa.
  • In partnership with Bernice Powell Jackson, created the African American Women in Ministry Network as a support system for UCC women who are in all phases, stages and places in ministry — ordained, commissioned, in discernment, and licensed in ministry settings within the United Church of Christ and throughout other denominations.
  • Nominated from the floor of the General Synod held in 1989 as a candidate for the Office of President of the UCC.

Lessons Learned:

  • It takes partnership, sisterhood seeing the connections, making the connections and supporting one another to have an impact on the system.
  • Justice work is about more than a title it is about a witness. It is creating a movement for the world that God Intends.
  • Spirit and witness are connected. To stay for the long haul, we have to be rooted in spiritual disciplines which renews and restores our minds, bodies and souls.
  • There is a difference between location and destination. It is important to know that we are a part and not the whole. I received life and wisdom for my leadership from those who had come before me and I passed it on to others who came after me. I worked hard during my tenure, but I knew there were sisters who would come after me to continue the justice work and agenda.
  • What you see depends on were you sit. The ability to see issues from the perspectives of those who are most impacted by it. To move from the ground up and not the top down.

It is important to note that each of us on the panel have served as those who have experienced first hand the injustices. We were prepared for our leadership, not only from academic preparation but from the lived experiences of rising up out of oppression into being creators of the Beloved community of Justice, Love, wholeness, community.

Read about the panel discussion, “If It Weren’t for the Women: Women’s Leadership in Social Justice,” from the CHHSM Annual Gathering.

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