Episcopal Church renews efforts at racial justice, healing, and reconciliation
How do you dismantle racism and build the “beloved community” spoken of by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Representatives from 30 dioceses from across the church met February 28 – March 1 in Atlanta, Georgia for a national conversation -- hosted by Atlanta’s Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing -- to share and learn from one another.
The Center hopes to be a partner in this ongoing missional work by all the dioceses, including Connecticut.
Last October, the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing was designated by the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, as a partner and a resource for The Episcopal Church, which had recommitted itself to the ongoing work of racial healing, reconciliation, and justice through adopting Resolutions A182 and C019 at the 2015 General Convention, backing it up with $2 million in the triennial budget.
In his sermon delivered November 1, 2015 at his installation, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said that the General Convention had done "a remarkable thing ...[it] invited us as a church to take up this Jesus Movement. We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus Movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation -- beginning with racial reconciliation ... across the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God. This is difficult work. But we can do it."
Because of its designation, Center’s executive director, Dr. Catherine Meeks, along with the staff and board members, have been gathering the voices of Episcopalians across the church to hear directly from them what they need in a resource center. The Center will also serve as a clearinghouse for sharing effective models.
In January they convened representatives from dioceses in Province IV, which includes Atlanta.
In February they convened representatives from dioceses across the U.S., and several from Central America. The group, which was too large to meet at the Center, met Wednesday evening, February 28, for dinner at St. Luke’s Church in Atlanta to hear introductory remarks by Dr. Meeks and others from the Center, and two from the Presiding Bishop’s staff including its Missioner for Racial Reconciliation, Heidi Kim and the Manager for Church Planting and Redevelopment, the Rev. Tom Brackett. The next day, the group met at All Saints’ Church in Atlanta for conversation, working in small groups and then in plenary session, using staff and board members from the Center as facilitators.
Throughout the day, people shared and learned the strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities of the dismantling racism work taking place now in dioceses.
Both in small groups and in plenary session, facilitators also asked participants what they needed from the Center.
Valarie Stanley and Lisa Yarbor, members of the Mission Council of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) and members of St. Luke’s, New Haven and Karin Hamilton, Canon for Mission Communication & Media, attended from ECCT. Valarie and Lisa were later able to tour the Center in a private tour led by Dr. Meeks, who is a retired professor, community activist, and author. Prior to the Center’s opening, she chaired Atlanta’s diocesan anti-racism commission, “Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism.”
Lisa Yarbor later reported that, when asked why the Center's title includes the words "for Racial Healing" instead of "for Racial Reconciliation" as used by the Presiding Bishop, Dr. Meeks said, "because there truly needs to be healing before there can be reconciliation [and that] justice needs to come before both can happen."
“Becoming Beloved Community” commitments
Following the 2015 General Convention, where this work was named a top priority for the church, General Convention officers, along with several members of the presiding bishop’s staff and others, developed a “set of interrelated commitments” to help Episcopalians “organize our many efforts to respond to racial injustice and grow a community of reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers.” Their work, “Becoming Beloved Community,” published last year, identified four components:
- Telling the Truth;
- Proclaiming the Dream;
- Repairing the Breach; and
- Practicing the Way of Love.
Renewed Episcopal Church in Connecticut efforts
ECCT's current efforts to dismantle racism build on its earlier work. The Episcopal Church in Connecticut has held different anti-racism training programs and initiatives at least over the past few decades. In 2009 ECCT leaders called for parishes to conduct research on their historic complicity in slavery and organized a Day of Repentance for the diocese. ECCT now works with VISIONS, Inc. to offer training sessions to clergy and laity.
For years, lay and ordained leaders who are passionate about God’s mission to bring about racial justice, healing, and reconciliation have taken part in workshops led by community groups, led workshops in ECCT, read books and held discussions, and joined related webinars hosted by Province One. Participation by a number of Episcopalians in ECCT in the 2016 Trinity Institute, “Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice,” led to an emerging Racial Justice Ministry Network.
Several Episcopalians have attended an “Undoing Racism Community Organizing Workshop,” in recent years and in January others attended an introductory workshop for it, to consider its potential for ECCT. The 2018 Clergy Conference Planning Committee has invited the Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas to lead the 2018 conference, “Christian Leadership Challenging White Supremacy.”
Last November, a group of ECCT clergy wrote and submitted a resolution to ECCT’s Annual Convention, which passed, that directed its leadership groups to further work. Citing 2015 General Convention Resolutions A182 and C019, ECCT’s resolution, Affirming Racial Reconciliation, directed that “at least two of [ECCT’s Leadership Gatherings] in 2018 [be] devoted to the study and witness to the impact of the sin of racism on our common life [and to] provide the Episcopal Church in Connecticut with what it learned and benchmarks for the ongoing work of dismantling racism across Connecticut.”
The Leadership Gathering includes the Mission Council, Standing Committee, Commission on Ministry, and board of Donations & Bequests. They meet quarterly on a Saturday morning for a joint session, generally followed by Eucharist, lunch, and separate meetings by each group.
Representatives from each group met to discuss dates and ideas for complying with the resolution. They will begin at the March 17 joint session and identified the following as study material to read or watch in preparation for conversation at the Leadership Gathering:
- ECCT Resolution: Affirming Racial Reconciliation (here)
- Brittney Cooper’s article, “How Michelle Obama subverted respectability politics with a ponytail” Christian Century February 28, 2018. (here)
- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham jail.” (here)
- Debby Irving’s TEDx talk, “Finding Myself in the Story of Race” (here)
Members were also asked to read Debby Irving’s Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race (Elephant Room Press, 2014) to be prepared to discuss it at the June Leadership meeting.
The Leadership Gathering will be reporting back to ECCT what they learned, and benchmarks, as directed by the resolution. A date for the report wasn’t specified in the resolution, however it’s likely to be ECCT’s next Annual Convention, October 26-27, 2018. The report and the benchmarks will also be publicized widely using ECCT’s media channels.
For more information about the work of the Leadership Gathering contact the Secretary of the Diocese, the Rev. Sandra Cosman, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about VISIONS, Inc. visit their website or contact Robin Hammeal-Urban, Canon for Mission Integrity & Training. For more information about the emerging ECCT Racial Justice Ministry Network, write to the Rev. Rowena Kemp, priest-in-charge at Grace, Hartford and member of the Standing Committee, who can also add you to its Google group. For more information about the Community Healing Network, visit their website here.
You can download a PDF of Becoming Beloved Community, adapted for individuals and congregations, here. A complete plan, and a summary, are linked from this page. More resources for racial reconciliation and justice can be found here.
Two potential partners include:
- Community Healing Network, based at St. Luke's, New Haven
- Center for Reconciliation, based in Providence RI
ECCT is thankful for the many individuals who have contributed -- and continue to contribute -- to this work in the church, in their community, and in our society.