Some of you know that I led, along with Chris Hamby, a reading and discussion group this Lent on race and reconciliation. Our sessions were grounded in a small book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu called In God's Hands. This was the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent book for 2015. In this book, Abp. Tutu wove some stories from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa with reflections on various passages from the  Bible which tell the story of God's love for us.

From early in the book, he used the phrase that each person was a "God carrier." What an incredible phrase! Our group talked about the beauty and power of that phrase, as well as our struggles to see all of those around us as God carriers. If I were to sum up his book in a (run-on) sentence, this is what I would say: God loves each person and part of God's creation, each carries a part of the Divine image and essence, and we are not whole and complete without each other, whether we like it or not.

It is hard to talk about race with honesty and open ears and hearts. It is hard to stick with the long walk of repentance and reconciliation. Most of us want to fix things, not be patient through the process of healing. Most of us want to ignore our role or complicity in racist structures. We want the past to be the past and for the world to just move forward. But we can't. We just can't and have the fix be real.

Christ Church has participated in and held various events in the past to deal with race. But our work as a congregation is not yet done. Just as our work as a society, as a nation, and as this diocese is not yet done. Does that seem too big to handle? Maybe it is. But if we do not start somewhere, then nothing will happen. So Christ Church will continue to have opportunities to come together to talk about race, repentance, and reconciliation over the next years and during the interim time. And we are also invited to engage with the work of the Diocese of Virginia. Bishop Johnston has called for a series of "Indaba" style listening sessions about race. See below for an excerpt from his address to Diocesan Council this past January.

The first listening sessions will happen later this month. I will be going to one on Thursday, April 23, at the Falls Church in Falls Church. I hope you will join me. Click here to register.

 

Excerpts from Bishop Johnston's Pastoral Address to Diocesan Council 2015

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

Clearly, there is much to do in the work of reconciliation in our larger society. But, in my judgment, this work must begin with reconciliation amongst ourselves, in our congregations and as a diocese as a whole. Even with the many positives now going for us as the Diocese of Virginia, we are surely not immune to the ills that are deeply embedded in civic life, both here in Virginia and across our nation. So, I believe that we must do all we can to put our own house in order before we can have real impact upon the problems of society. In other words, it is when we can witness and minister out of the reality and integrity of our own healing and wholeness that we can make the most difference in our communities.

A key example in our “Working Together, Reaching Beyond” so as to bring a much-needed witness to society is racial reconciliation. The daily news from cities and towns all across our country over the past several months shows us that this haunting issue has reached an absolutely urgent point. Simmering racial tensions are now boiling over into the streets. What’s been happening is all symptomatic.

In our Episcopal Church, and specifically in our own diocese, I quite regularly hear—in particular—our African American and Latino communicants and their clergy speak of their painful experiences of the scourge of racism. It is often “subtle” but too often is more explicit, and it affects their daily lives, yes even on Sundays.

Surely, as communities of faith we as a diocese are especially suited, and divinely charged, to be facilitators of reconciliation, both within our own walls and in the broader community. Therefore, I am now announcing a major initiative for this year of 2015 that will focus on gaining a better understanding of rising racial tensions. We will begin this effort by holding a series of “listening sessions” in the mid-year around our diocese. These sessions will be the same “Indaba” style gatherings that were so successfully used here a few years ago to address tensions and divisions regarding the Church’s ministry in the quickly evolving matter of human sexuality. “Indaba” listening sessions involve no debate, no cross-talk, but rather give every person present the opportunity to speak their hearts and minds in a safe, non-reactive environment. That’s what is most important. With “Indaba,” there are no “wrong” things to say, no frustrating political-correctness driving the process, only the honest expression of experiences, questions, observations, and convictions. I was so very proud of how we did this before; a great many participants were deeply moved, telling us how they were helped to learn and understand in ways not otherwise possible. Frankly, they were also surprised at how transforming the sessions were, changing the way we as church people were in relationship to the issues together rather than being so concerned with changing minds. I can tell you from many experiences of “Indaba” style sessions that something actually mysterious happens when it is faithfully engaged. It is, indeed, a Holy Spirit phenomenon.

So, we will first listen to one another in ways that help us to understand the divisions over race that still have an impact on our lives. Then, we will be better equipped to go out into our communities to “move the needle” on reconciliation...

So, we must remind ourselves that “reconciliation” is a core value of our Christian faith. It is at the heart of who we are and what we are to do. Holy Scripture is explicitly clear about this. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote that through Christ, God “reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Likewise, our Book of Common Prayer declares that “The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Therefore, the very fact that reconciliation is so hard to achieve is all the more reason we are called as Christians to make it happen!

We now stand on the shoulders of those countless faithful Episcopalians who have ministered for so many decades—even centuries—to reach out and build bridges. We are recipients and now stewards of what has been accomplished before us. And we are called to be reconcilers in these trying times. I have chosen to make reconciliation a priority for 2015 not to advance some political agenda and not to indulge in staged rounds of good-deed discussions that fail to address the underlying issues. I have chosen this because I’m convinced that what we—Church and society alike—need today is the nurturing of a trust that depends on listening, really listening, to each other. That’s the kind of trust that will build community far more than any piece of legislation.