Owens was among many who shared and prayed together during confessional meetings that took place on 23 June as an integrated part of the WCC central committee meeting. She is the first person of colour and the second woman to lead the Disciples denomination since her election in 2017.
Hord Owens spoke about Christianity in North America during a coffee break interview in the 21-27 June central committee meeting of the WCC, raising issues such as justice and race. She noted that in the United States, the issue of "Christian nationalism" can be worrying.
"One of the biggest problems I see in Christianity writ large is that we're more concerned about the institutions that we have created to do the work and our roles within them sometimes than we are about the work itself and the witness, and to Jesus Christ," she said.
"These institutions must shift. They must change to continue to be relevant. Our young people are telling us, 'I'm not joining this denomination or that church in particular; I want to be part of the work of God, part of the work of the Body of Christ.’ And we're trying to bolster up institutional structures and privilege their power. And that doesn't align."
Hord Owens had 20 years of life in corporate America leading diverse teams in data management in health care and other industries before she entered the seminary for ordination.
She believes churches should provide an environment where people can discuss many things.
Variety of perspectives
As a church leader, she learned that various perspectives arise on issues based on either confessional tradition or geographic or even ethnic culture as to how people see them.
"So, climate change and human sexuality and the situation in Israel, and Palestine are all things that my churches have wrestled with and spoken about," she said.
"It's about making sure that you've heard, but it's also about the work that we do that bears witness to the love of God if what we're doing is just sitting around tables and agreeing on what we're going to do at our next meeting."
Hord Owens said that the United States and Canada have distinct perspectives on racism.
"Canada is much more in touch with its role as a settler society and its relationship to Indigenous peoples. In the United States, the issue of black and white and brown in terms of racism because of the history of slavery in the United States, in particular, has continued to undergird everything that happens in the US context.
Moving past race
"We almost can't move to do anything else until we move past that issue of racism in terms of black and white."
She said in Canada, society seems more focused on identifying the injustice done to Indigenous people.
"They have a different lens on race. It's almost impolite to speak of race in Canada. And I've had these conversations with friends in Canadian churches."
"The United States has taken some steps backwards," said Hord Owens. "They’re banning books, in many of our states, just because they addressed the issue of race or the history of slavery….
"We don't want them to feel bad that white people are racist. That is shunning history. It's erasing history. And from that perspective, we're making huge strides backwards on racism in the US. "
"So we must walk together, even when we disagree. I think this is the theological focus of my church—we have to stay at the table, even when we disagree because the witness that we make to the gospel of Christ is enhanced when people can look at us and say, 'Oh, my goodness, I know they don't agree on x, y, z. But they seem committed to this Jesus; they seem committed to this faith, and they're willing to work through the messy and difficult things.”