Recently I returned from a National Summit on Welcoming the Syrian Refugee in Detroit, Michigan. It was an inspiring summit focused on hospitality and hope in a time in this nation when people of goodwill must speak out.
On the Sunday after my return, I was surprised to the core by a celebration of 20 years as Pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland. It has been a journey in which we have grown from a small congregation to a large multicultural, multinational, multigenerational welcoming and affirming sanctuary congregation of justice seekers and peacemakers.
For nine of those 20 years, I have had the gift of serving on the board of the Northwest Health Foundation during a period in which Advocacy and Social Justice have been embraced.
Central to the work of the Northwest Health Foundation and the church is a vision of what is intended for the human family where all can fully live and give of themselves for the common good. At the heart of this vision are deep relationships that remind us we are all called to step out for social justice when others may hold back. To be unafraid and willing to take risks, since it is not about us but about the community and world in which we live, is vitally important.
The Northwest Health Foundation has championed a vision of what can and must be for children, families and communities in Oregon and Southwest Washington with the Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Initiative. It has been a vision forged with communities themselves where the gifts and answers are already present. A majority minority board and staff, strong and collaborative partnerships with communities of color, diverse volunteer citizen lobbyists: these are intentional steps in a vision grounded in a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. The courageous leadership of President and CEO Nichole June Maher, and a board and staff that truly love and care for each other and our communities, have been vital in this process. Incoming board chair Vanetta Abdellatif knows this well.
If we are to live into the vision we so desire where all are welcome and can truly have life in healthy communities, it will take intentional daily steps with boldness and courage. There will always be voices that say it is impossible, but we know better. If organizations of all types from philanthropy to faith communities, from non-profits to schools, from businesses to government, answer the call to become the diverse and equitable organizations that reflect who we are not only today but 20 years from now, real change will come. The gifts and the knowledge are already present in our communities, and that makes all things possible. Yes, the best is yet to come.
Rev. W.J. Mark Knutson