BY JOHN W. COLEMAN
In its 2018 Call to Action* report to the Northeastern Jurisdiction Vision Table and Episcopacy Committee, the Eastern PA Conference reports recent strides and next steps that suggest real movement against racial ignorance and inequity that have too long seemed rooted in place.
Indeed, the conference’s renamed Racial Justice Transformation Process may make 2018 a turning point for the racial progress that the Call to Action initiative seeks. But that will only happen if the candid dialogues and revealing analyses that have emerged can lead to deep learning and real change.
Those dialogues were part of an intensive “institutional racism audit” that engaged racial-ethnic groups and conference leaders in separate, guided discussions facilitated by expert consultants. Those discussions yielded subsequent learnings, followed by further listening sessions hosted by Bishop Peggy Johnson and the Rev. Anita Powell, Director of Connectional Ministries.
After her follow-up talks with Latino, Korean and Indian groups and with the Committee on Native American Ministries in late 2018, Bishop Johnson will hold her next one with clergy of African descent (including clergy from Africa and the Caribbean) March 23.
“These ongoing talks are a part of our journey of racial reconciliation and the building of the ‘beloved community,’” said the bishop, who has led her Cabinet to support the Call to Action initiative by example. The report highlights her and the superintendents’ own racial learning efforts, including study, participation in dialogues and training events, and visits to racial-ethnic churches.
“The CTA is part of a long process of storytelling, relationship-mending and barrier-dismantling that must continue on and on,” she explained. “The work is never ‘once and done.’ The Call to Action is a call to a lifetime of learning, growing and healing.”
The conference’s overall work in this initiative seeks to “engage and equip congregations, clergy, ministry candidates and staff in seeking inclusion and equity while serving their communities.” The goal is to “create opportunity for changing systems” and ultimately, to dismantle institutional racism.
The changes leaders want to see include:
Compared to other NEJ conferences, there is remarkable racial-ethnic diversity in our conference, including:
While such diversity is not new for Eastern PA, the scope of in-depth conversations, ambitious visions and intentional plans generated in 2018, driven by the Butterfly Project, may be unprecedented. They include:
“In the many current and planned activities documented here, I am encouraged by the effort and attention being devoted to working toward the stated goals laid out in the NEJ Call to Action Resolution,” said the Rev. Susan Worrell. She prepared the CTA report on behalf of CORR, which she co-chairs, using information provided by leaders of conference groups, districts and local churches. “This is a great beginning in our concerted effort to deconstruct our racially biased systems and build true equity in our Annual Conference.
“As greater understanding and cultural humility is sought by those who have for so long been granted power,” she continued, “and relationships across ethnic boundaries are forged, hearts will be changed, leading to transformed systems. This is my prayer for us all.”
Each conference’s Call to Action report is submitted annually to NEJ leadership, and a quadrennial report is due to be submitted in 2020, showing progress in seeking and achieving racial progress goals.
* The *Call to Action resolution for racial justice was endorsed unanimously by annual conference delegates and bishops at the 2016 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference. It contains detailed recommendations that call on each conference to do more to confront and dismantle racism and discrimination, both interpersonal and institutional, to push for systemic change in pursuit of racial justice and progress, and to affirm that all lives matter in God’s eyes