Human Relations Workshops

Human Relations Workshops: A Report to the Ministry

ON AT LEAST two occasions the General Conference has taken official action recommending that human relations workshops be held throughout North America in an effort to improve relation ships between black and white members of our church. . .

-Chairman, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Andrews University

ON AT LEAST two occasions the General Conference has taken official action recommending that human relations workshops be held throughout North America in an effort to improve relation ships between black and white members of our church. It may be of interest to some readers of THE MINISTRY that these recommendations have been specific enough to recommend that in conducting such workshops, consideration be given to working with the model workshop program initiated here at Andrews.

It is not our purpose in this brief report to discuss the Andrews program in depth and in detail. But we would like to make information and help available to those interested. We are at present acting as a clearing house for anything attempted with human relations and would welcome information or material from anyone doing anything about human relations in our denomination. We are also prepared to mount demonstration programs or to conduct workshops at any workers' meeting or in any local area with the provision that application for our services be made through denominational channels, and provided the persons responsible for the work in that area are willing to have us come. It should be remembered, too, that we are carrying on a continuing program on this campus. More than twelve official workshops were carried out the past year. Those interested may write to us and obtain information about how to participate in one of the on-campus experiences.

A Rewarding Experience

Thus far workshops have been held with ministers, educators, laymen, and student participants. All have been described by the participants as helpful, useful, and enjoyable. At least two workshops have been held at the request of laymen's groups interested in the problem. All of them have been reported extensively through reports distributed to the participants, the organizations that sponsored them, and to certain key officials in the General Conference. We have files containing comments by participants and by our denominational administrators at the local, the union, and the General Conference levels commending the program and encouraging us to develop and extend it. We mention these facts only so that one will not get the usual impression that "mimeographed" reports usually represent some radical or offshoot movement outside of official denominational knowledge or consent.

Thus far nearly all of those who have participated have come to us from various organizations in the Lake Union, although we have had participation to a limited extent from the Atlantic, Columbia, and Southern unions, and at least once from the Central Union. Occasionally an alum nus of the workshop program gets transferred to another area. From those that have written to us we know we have isolated individuals in nearly every major region in the North American Division.

Planning Factors

Let us now take a look at some of the basic assumptions on which the workshop program was begun and some of the methods used. First of all, we began with the assumption that a problem does exist in our church between members of different races. It is apparent at the local church level and it is apparent in the organizational structure. Second, that it is not getting any better, but it is apparently worsening. Third, that some attempt should be made to improve conditions if we can. Fourth, that anything attempted would have to be of such a nature that it would be compatible with our Adventist principles. And finally, that one ought not to try to do anything that could not be supported and approved by the church as represented in its organizational and administrative structure.

After looking at the nature of the problem as it exists in society and in our church, it was decided that the most likely effective place to begin would be to design some thing that would serve to bring representative individuals from various levels of our church together. They must come from both races and they must come together in some type of situation where all status differences would be wiped out for the period of the program at least. An environmental situation would have to be developed and maintained that would tend to establish a climate in which there would be freedom to communicate, to discuss, and to examine the total problem in its various aspects. Encouragement was given to listen carefully, ask questions, try to understand and accept the ideas of other people, or at least to accept the person without regard to whether one wished to endorse what he was saying.

Toward True Brotherhood

The objective just stated was realized to a greater extent than envisioned in the planning stage. It was seen that in a work shop environment it was possible for men to come together, laying aside their differences in culture and background. They developed confidence and trust in one another, and a totally new concept of fellowship and the dimensions of brother hood emerged. We were able to weld ourselves into a biracial working community to accomplish the basic goals set forth in the workshop program. They have stated again and again, "We feel that we can dis cuss these problems freely and fully with our fellow members, and we feel that problem would be greatly reduced if not actually solved if all our brothers and sisters in our churches could share this same type of workshop experience that we have 'had together." Many of our black brethren, especially, say that for the first time in their lives they have learned to know what it is like for brethren of both races to work together, play together, worship together, and to love and respect one another while doing so. They report that the experience has given them a hope that they never expected to realize. The white brethren in turn say that for the first time they have learned to understand how the black man feels, the kinds of problems he has had to face and how much alike both races really are as human beings. Both races pledge themselves to the task of the church and to the ideal of achieving true brotherhood, which will include all men regardless of the kindred, tongue, or people he happens to come from.

The Small-Group Process

In looking about for methods to use, it was decided to employ small-group dynamics and small-group processes, be cause they are the most powerful thus far developed to set up communication processes and to integrate people of various backgrounds into a set of working relation ships. Again and again participants remark on how surprised they are to learn that they can work in groups without losing any of their own individuality. They stumble across the fact that they can use group processes and group relationships to meet complex problem situations that they could never have solved on their own. In effect the members in the workshop generate their own dynamics, and any changes that occur are those that are desired and supported by each individual in the community.

Nothing strange or unusual occurs during the group processes, except that some times individuals get some new insights into themselves and their motives. The workshop always has a strong spiritual overtone because the participants are basic ally people with Christian ideals and practices. The groups develop their own methods for handling tension and anxiety and it is interesting to watch these methods develop almost from the first session. No bizarre, antisocial behavior occurs.

One needs to think in opposite terms from that which one usually reads about sensitivity sessions and encounter groups if he would properly understand what a human relations workshop is like. What hap pens is exactly like what would happen in any normal situation if people developed close and genuine friendships with one an other. The only difference is that workshop methods and techniques speed up the process so that it would take many months, perhaps several years, for friendships to develop at the pace they grow in a workshop situation. Yet the pace is never more rapid than the individuals can sustain, because in the final analysis they regulate the pace themselves and movement occurs to the ex tent that they become involved with one another.

Perhaps a good way to close this report would be to select a few statements by some of those who participated in the work shop that illustrate the kind of things that can happen, and how participants feel about the experience.

I go away from here with a sense of urgency, not to create tensions, but to lead the people who are under my charge to a more meaningful purpose; that is, to gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven together with all of their brothers and sisters regardless of their color. (A black minister.)

I would like to say that I came to this workshop with apprehensions. I did not know what to expect. No one told me what we were going to do here. But I must say that I benefited. I think I am a better Christian from having enjoyed this association. I have lived closer to my white brother than I have ever before in the history of my life. (A black minister.)

The workshop has been a tremendous experience for me. It has really increased my optimism, about the future of race relations in the SDA Church. (A black minister.)

This has been the most productive meeting that has ever been held in our denomination. (A white minister.)

The insights I have personally received have been gratifying. I have known that animosities existed but never realized that they exist among Adventists as they do. ... In evaluating the workshop I do believe that it is an excellent opportunity. ... It might be done on every level of the denominational organization. (A white minister.)

I have felt here maturity as evidenced by each man's reaction to the problem. We will go away willing to project what we have learned, unafraid, dedicated. I am glad that I have had the privilege of this fine fellowship. . . . We have been unified by a program that was designed to bring us together and then to communicate what we have learned to the congregations we serve. (A black minister.)

This has truly been a rewarding experience and I have enjoyed it very much. . . . I'm going to take some of these things back with me to my fellow church members try to share them. I'm just going to keep on working and praying. (A black laywoman.)

I'm not kidding. I really wasn't going to come because I thought I had things to do back home. . . . I'm really eager to go back home now and get something started, be tactful about it, but try with the Lord's help to help people do some quick, clear thinking. (A white layman.)

I think this weekend has been beautiful. ... I liked it because I knew right off the bat that people were going to be honest with one another. ... I feel sure this is going to help us when we get back to our churches and try to inspire them to feel the way that we do. I feel that if we can go back to our churches with the attitudes we have developed here, it cannot help but change them. (A black laywoman.)

I want to say that the impact of this workshop didn't really hit me until I left you folk yesterday. Yesterday afternoon I went to a group that I've been with since early June. There was such a difference of atmosphere. I realized how much communication can mean. It really hit me. Barriers have broken down. (A black educator, female.)

I wish everyone could feel as good as we do. There's hope for the future. There are some who will say, They don't know what they are talking about. I wish everyone could feel as good as we do, that we could set up one giant workshop to produce what those of us who are here have experienced, so that it could be felt all over the world. In two or three weeks we could have this thing solved. (A white educator, male.)

It may be of some interest to our readers to know that this last statement was made by an academy principal who was born, reared, and educated in the South. The above statements have not been quoted in their entirety because of the limitations of space. Nor have we deliberately tried to select the comments that were most favor able to the program. What we have tried to do is to abstract a few words of comment from various workshop evaluations as they were made by participants. We believe that they are representative of the general tone of what people have reported out of their workshop experience. We know that the program is practical and that it is effective. We now call upon our brothers in the ministry of this church to give us their ideas of how it can be expanded to meet the needs of a wider portion of our church.


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-Chairman, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Andrews University

March 1972

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