By Vola Ranaivoson
“We need imagination, not memory, to move forward” ~ Pastah Jonathan Brooks
Covid has upended everything that we considered normal and pushed us to reimagine what life and ministry look like. Going back to a memory of what used to be considered normal is no longer an option. But, what does that really look like? How can we reimagine what God wants to see happen in our own personal lives and in our communities? As I spoke with the Kansas City Conference Host Team Chair, NaTika Rowles, and Conference Coordinator, Q Nellum, it became clear that they wrestled with these questions as they diligently planned for the national conference for the past 3 years. Their reimagination will finally come to fruition in just a couple of weeks, when CCDA practitioners from all over the country will be coming, in-person and online, to Kansas City for #ccdaReimagine.
How did you first know about CCDA, and how did you come to be a part of the planning team for the conference?
Natika: I live in Kansas City with my husband and five kids, and work for a nonprofit on the donor side in philanthropy, grantmaking, and corporate giving. Three years ago, my husband and I were invited to attend the Chicago conference by our pastors Darryl and Stephanie Answer. They had started New Community Church, and it was a new church at the time, and our pastors were doing church in a way that I had never seen before and was intrigued by it. When we went to the conference, we found like-minded people doing the same things. And it felt like home, with the good and the messiness/realness of family. CCDA didn’t pretend to have it all together like other organizations, but rather life was being lived out in real-time, not a polished image, and everyone was learning and growing together. Those things were what drew us to CCDA and made me ask how I can utilize skills to help CCDA. I found out that they were going to be doing a conference in Kansas City two years later, so I volunteered on the host team, then the pandemic hit. So fast forward. That’s it. And it’s been great.
Q: I had started coming to some of the conferences and at the time I worked with youth. But I didn’t feel like at the time the conferences had much for youth leaders or people who work with children. Then they started the leadership cohorts and I was encouraged to join. Being in Cohort 2 was an amazing experience of building friendships, getting to know and being mentored by the leaders of CCDA, becoming very involved in CCDA as well as helping to challenge and expand what CCDA could be. With my experience in event planning, I have had the opportunity to be conference coordinator for CCDA. It’s been a pleasure working with this host team for the past 3 years. The year I was planning for the Dallas conference they took the initiative to start planning for the Kansas City conference by themselves and then I officially started planning with them right after Dallas.
With the pandemic, your experience planning this conference is completely different than other host teams before you. Can you tell us what that experience has been like? What have been some of the challenges and what have been some of the joys?
Natika: As Q mentioned before, you start planning like two years before the conference, so we had already been together and built relationships. But when Covid hit, we got to process that together as a team. The host team became our touchstone, our family, our CCDA. We were planning this conference during real life. And that is what we bring differently going into this conference-because we lived it together while we were planning the conference, and that has helped us to clarify what we are going to talk about, and what we are going to offer for this conference. We believe that God is doing a new thing. We’ve never seen it, but we believe it’s gonna be amazing. So we’re definitely not trying to go back to the way they were, because of this virtual space, because of the social unrest, because of the injustices that are plaguing our people, all over the world, not just the country.
Q: It was so ironic that we came out of the Dallas conference with the theme forward, but then the whole world shut down. Covid gave us a chance to honestly pause, breathe. In the Old Testament, each little prose ended with Selah which means to pause, think about it. And I almost feel like we needed that time to pause and think and restructure and reimagine where we can and cannot be. As Natika said, we all processed 2020 together, and it was rough. Most of our host team meetings when we started planning, we’re really talking about Covid. And how all the ministries are struggling and how all the ministries are coping, and how they’re still struggling. I mean, we still have that conversation in KC and in every city, and how people want everything to be what it was, but it can’t be. We can’t go back, what was normal back then was never normal in the first place. My hope for this conference is that this will be the most challenging, the most impactful, and the conference where people are able to process in a keep it real sense, not that flowery Christianese mentality.
Also with Covid still happening, it was important for us to offer a hybrid virtual piece for those that couldn’t make it to the conference in person, which is also something that is different from other conferences that we’ve had before.
What can people look forward to when coming to the Conference? What are some ways that you are wanting participants to enter the space as they begin to reimagine those things?
Q: With the conference itself, we have an amazing lineup of plenary speakers and workshops. If you are joining us virtually, you are not going to want to miss the plenary sessions. We will be featuring local artists in every session, just to give you a taste of what’s coming because it’s so dope. We’ll have spoken word artists, we got these dance teams, we got a drum line lined up. We’ve got an indigenous ballet group. And most of these are youth which is really incredible. And, Chantel who led worship for us in Dallas, will be back to lead us again.
At every conference, there is a night or session that focuses on that city. So it’s all the speakers from that city and the work that they’re doing. Friday night is going to be the KC night and I think it’s gonna be like, the dopest night. We really brought the generations together [for conference]. You’ve got speakers like Marvin Daniels, who’s been around CCDA forever, then you’ve got these new leaders who are part of the local network and part of the cohorts who are younger leaders that are going to be speaking.
For those joining us virtually, you will get to have the full experience as well, joining Go & Sees virtually. Something new that we’re also doing is offering collaboration circles (online networking spaces). You will leave these with concrete stuff to do on your own, like you’re sharing stuff that’s gonna actually work. And you could take and use it.
Natika: Look at this conference as a totally different conference. Don’t expect a homecoming. Don’t expect a family reunion. Because it’s not. With Covid and social unrest as the backdrop to the conference, we are coming together with a lot of grief and no set answers. I want people to come to the conference expecting to offer what reimagining looks like, not just expecting to receive. Picture a blank canvas, and an artist with a whole bunch of different colors of paint, and they’re just throwing it on the canvas. Everyone coming to the conference has got to be willing to find, after it’s done, the beauty in that because you don’t know what it’s gonna look like.