How “Whites Confronting Racism Program” Impacts Me, My Church, and My Community

I considered myself fairly aware before joining Whites Confronting Racism, but the breadth and depth of what I learned was pretty amazing.  Among the things I was struck by was the powerful subtlety of racism – how we as whites participate so much in its maintenance without even being aware of our participation.  

The workshops and readings have opened my eyes (not fully yet, I know – we all have blind spots) to where I am maintaining the social contract that allows racism to persist, and I also have a greater awareness of my inner oppressor who is trying to stop me from breaking that contract.  I also feel I have better tools to help move white people past the simplistic understanding of racism (racism is bad feelings that bad people have) to deeper understanding of the foundational concept of white supremacy and infects all levels of our society with racism.

One of my triad members wants to put together a short study on racism to be used by Sunday School classes and other groups, and I have offered to work with him on that.  I am still seeking out the proper local organizations in my area that will help me have an impact in my community, and I have been much more open about my participation in this work, to provoke more conversations among my parishioners.

Rev. Mark Terry, Senior Pastor, Covenant United Methodist Church

I’m grateful for the program and the impact it’s had on me and my ministry.  I entered this opportunity out of awareness and concern for the growing tension around racism, and after hearing more frequently that white people need to do their work.  The sorrow arising around my own deeply embedded, implicit biases were also motivating my desire to become a better ally and advocate for people of color. 

Working through my shame and guilt is mine to do, but the work of dismantling racism is for white people to do.  I’ve learned that this work is spiritual work, and I cannot do it alone.  It can be overwhelming, and change comes slowly.  I’ve spent more time building relationships with people of color in my church and in the community.  I choose books and movies differently.  I’m attending more workshops on injustice.  I’m more aware of my skin color and race, and the opportunities and privilege they’ve afforded me.  I tip more generously than I used to.  Last week I questioned the assumptions of a woman in my church when she called someone, “lazy.”  I catch myself in 100/100 thinking a little quicker. 

This program is providing safe space for me to learn and develop the skills necessary to recognize and challenge racism and privilege.  I’m still learning and developing what is needed to intervene effectively, but there has been movement in the right direction.  I’m thankful for the support and encouragement from experienced facilitators, colleagues and friends who are holding me accountable. 

Rev. Shauna Ridge, Pastor, Thorndale United Methodist Church

The first way the Whites Confronting Racism Group impacted me personally – was simply by gathering this group of remarkable white people.  Participating in the group, and developing relationships over time, has encouraged me and strengthened my resolve to confront racism.  The group includes people I did not already know, from all over the geography of the conference, and from a range of political and theological perspectives.  This contradicts the fear that I might be alone as a white person confronting racism and challenges my assumptions / arrogance of thinking that I already knew who would be gathered in such a group. 

We were not long into the group when my 14-year old son received an invitation to join the “Order of the Arrow. (OA)”  This is an honor society within Boy Scouts of America that focuses on fellowship, camping, and service – and also Native American traditions of singing and dancing.  My first reaction was to criticize the OA as racist, but this put my son on the defensive.  It was helpful to think about this with Lorraine and the WCR Cohort.  The group helped me to recognize that “staying pure” is not always an option, and giving my son the tools to think critically may be just as important.  I have used this as an opportunity to learn with him about native culture, traditions, and history and to have conversations together about racism, appropriation, and history.  We went to a Pow-Wow, talked with his friends, and learned together on our trip to Grand Canyon and historic sites in Arizona. 

I love the cohort for the process of learning and relationships, and I hear the challenge to move from learning to action.  My triad has been an effective support.  The group has helped me think about preaching and teaching around themes of racism and how to respond or intervene when confronted with racism.  One of the concrete steps I have taken is to talk to my (mostly white) congregation about why this work is important to me.  The cohort also worked through a specific scenario that helped two of us work through our leadership in the Urban Commission.

Pastor David Michael Eckert, Messiah United Methodist Church  Lafayette Hill, PA

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in the WCR cohort. The training sessions facilitated a deeper dive into my own racist behaviors, strategies for holding other white people accountable as we move toward an anti-racist society, and a group of colleagues I can turn to for support. My triad group continues to be a helpful place to talk through real world situations that my community faces. 

My participation in the cohort has prompted me, along with other members of the ministry team at my church, to start our own cohort for members of our church modeled after WCR. This has been a great way for us to share what we have learned and broaden the impact on our congregation and community.

Kristi Painter, Global Mission Fellow US-2, Arch Street UMC

The Whites Confronting Racism year-long program and continuing work has been an important boost for the anti-racism work in my life and in the Eastern PA Conference. I have found it tremendously hopeful that 18 pastors have taken a significant amount of time to work on their personal racism and to think together about how we can handle situations in our churches and communities. 

Personally, I have felt the support and challenge of the group to take more significant steps in my local community and through the work of POWER. We have organized local events in Lower Merion township, including a three day interfaith Whites Confronting Racism workshop, two nine hour anti-racism training sessions and two introductory anti-racism evening seminars. POWER Main Line is organizing a 1619 Project Symposium to connect the history of slavery to racism in our time. (February 23, 3 pm at St. Luke Church in Bryn Mawr). Our goal is particularly to help folks in the suburbs to relate to issues right next door in Philadelphia, where asbestos is making school buildings unsafe and inequitable distribution of state taxes makes it difficult to handle the problems.

The deeper we go, the more the veil of denial of racism is uncovered, and the more challenged I feel. Dr. Martin Luther King jr. said that challenging racism is a fight for the soul of our country. The Whites Confronting Racism workshops make that deep soul work feel very real.

Pastor David Tatgenhorst, St. Luke United Methodist Church, Bryn Mawr, PA

Being part of the Whites Confronting Racism Cohort has been a tremendous growth experience for me.  In terms of education, it has given me a much clearer understanding of structural racism in our society.  I have learned how policies instituted in the areas of the economy, housing, education, and criminal justice have tied together to give whites an advantage and persons of color a disadvantage.  I have especially become more aware of the tremendous disparities in the criminal justice system as it pertains to the arrest and incarceration of persons of color verses those who are white.  This learning has spurred me on to reading more books in this area, such as Open Season by Ben Crump, and Stony the Road by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

However, education doesn’t mean anything if we don’t put what we have learned into practice.  WCR has given me the tools that help me communicate issues of race more effectively with my congregations.  Since being part of the Cohort, I have become more intentional about being multi-cultural in the church.  In the past year, I have made sure we celebrated Native American Awareness Sunday and observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month.  I have also offered a workshop to the people in my congregations on racism.  Ten people signed up and afterwards they asked me if there was a second part to the workshop so they could learn even more.  I also look forward to working with others in the Cohort as we look to make a difference on the Conference level as well.

John Keretzman, Pastor of Mountainhome and Canadensis UMC

Because of this group, I have been braver and more collaborative in my efforts to challenge racism in our community. For instance, when a “woke” white person, Susan, whom I interact with on social media, posted something offensive and was gently questioned by a black pastor, Patricia, and ended up publicly attacking Patricia in response, I had the skills I needed to support Patricia and effectively challenge Susan to reconsider her actions. As a result of my interaction with Patricia on this, she I and strengthened the relationship we already had (through our work with POWER), and Patricia agreed to go with me to talk with leadership of the local YWCA. (The YWCA had planned to give me their “Woman of Distinction” award but I decided to turn it down because the organization repeatedly fails to live up to the “eliminating racism” part of its mission—and then to use the opportunity to get an audience with the organization’s leadership. I also consulted in advance with a person of color on the YWCA staff who was glad to have community members echoing the kinds of things she had long been saying to the board and the CEO. I continue to monitor this organization’s actions or inactions, and we will take further steps if we don’t see adequate change.) Coaching I got through my Whites Confronting Racism triad (with David Tatgenhorst and Kevin Babcock), as well as role-playing in the wider group around similar issues, helped me to work more effectively.

At the local church level, the group helped me to reflect on how to best support  Grandview’s first racially cross-cultural pastor, and I implemented suggestions I received with our SPR team and the pastor. Rev. Dr. Catherine Williams from Greater New Jersey Conference, who is black [Trinidadian] and a professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, worked as an interim pastor of visitation at Grandview last summer. Dr. Williams had a positive experience, and so did the congregation. Our hope is that that experience will be a bridge to greater racial/ethnic diversity on Grandview’s staff in more permanent roles.

Additionally, at the local church level, I’ve borrowed teaching techniques and content, such as the mainstream/marginalized exercise and several videos, including 1619 materials. I’ve committed to working with African-American partners in the conference on a seasonal church curriculum about United Methodist connections to the implementation of the Fugitive Slave Law in Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and what that can teach us about where we are today. The WCR group also helped me better articulate in my teaching and preaching the ways that overcoming racism helps white people.

For me personally, this group has helped to raise my consciousness of ways that I’m complicit with white supremacy. It is part of the ongoing, often painful work of repentance in which I am engaged. One growth in understanding was on racism’s impact on Native American people. The spiritual, not merely the intellectual, work required is critical to this program. Being both supported and challenged by the trainers and my peers allowed me to be able to share more honestly about myself.

Rev. Andrea Brown, lead pastor, Grandview United Methodist Church, Lancaster

The Whites Confronting Racism workshops provided me the opportunity to build a community with other whites who are committed to confronting racism. The work we share is long overdue in the context of the church where systemic, social and personal racial oppression remains active. Bonds of trust were built around truth-telling and sharing personal stories through the lens of race. While I felt somehow advanced in my racial awareness and commitment to racial justice, I was reminded that there is no such thing as a “good white.” Confronting the racism in me, in others and in the very air we breathe is a daily discipline and a life-long journey for white people. If we really want to confront and defeat racism, the task is ours and it must be pursued with unmitigated intensity, integrity and humility.

My first experience with the Whites Confronting Racism workshop series was when I organized a cohort of 18 white leaders involved with POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild) to participate in the workshop series. That experience was so powerful I knew I had to organize clergy colleagues to have the experience. The workshops underscored the systemic roots of racism embedded in the formation of U.S. politics, public policy and even church polity. White supremacy and patriarchy are real and they infect all levels of human interaction. Walking away, wallowing in guilt and shame and/or wishing it all would go away are not helpful. Learning, practicing and applying techniques such as confronting and then supporting other whites (family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends) in confronting racism in themselves and beyond is essential. Also, tracking and drawing attention to how much space and privilege whites take and have, simply for being white, is eye-opening.

Currently, I am working with both Whites Confronting Racism cohorts to sustain commitment and action related to confronting racism. In my local church, the ministry team has organized a cohort of six church members who agreed to participate in a multi-session dialogue on race. In preparation for General Conference, I am committed to listening to congregations of color and paying close attention to their unique concerns and priorities regarding issues facing the denomination.

Reverend Robin M. Hynicka, Lead Pastor, Arch Street United Methodist Church

“I should not have to educate my oppressors!”

Those words have haunted me for over 10 years. They were spoken by Leslie, a black woman, during my seminary years. I emerged from seminary in 2011 knowing a few things: 1) I have a race, and it offers only a very narrow view of the world; 2) That I, and people like me, benefit from that view and others, not like me, are harmed by it; 3) Part of my work as a Christian on her way to perfection and as a church leader must include work toward racial justice – to ignore this mandate is to ignore the core values of our God revealed throughout the Bible and in the life of Jesus Christ.  In all inadequate honesty, however, I must say that until the Whites Confronting Racism cohort, I did not feel like I had the tools, skill set, confidence, courage, support, knowledge base, or legitimacy to even know what I was talking about on a practical level. Sometimes, I even worried that I might do more harm than good by saying much of anything to anyone.

I knew as soon as I heard about Whites Confronting Racism that I needed to apply. For me, this work is necessary to fully live out my call. Our cohort met 3 days at a time, 3 times over many months. Our time together seemed to focus on 3 primary areas, education – both theory and application (for example, in our first session, we received an overview of race on the North American Continent), practicing ways we can engage/intervene when we encounter racism (particularly among white people), and building a community of support. All areas were undergirded with theological reflection.

I remember after the first session, I began to see racism everywhere – not only in the media and in encounters between white people and people of color, but suddenly I saw racism being expressed and held up in interactions that white people have with other white people in every aspect of my life and my ministry. One of the things that we spoke about in class is, “The White Contract,” which is this sort-of invisible agreement between white people to not make other white people uncomfortable when talking about race. This works for us as a group because it keeps us in positions of power and privilege. This contract is upheld not only every time a racial joke goes unchallenged or a comment about “those people,” isn’t pushed back against, but also when well-meaning white people have harmful views or charity or mission work, or when we try to explain away the experiences of people of color by defending the actions or attitudes of white people. It happens in meetings when white people listen more to other white people than they do people of color, or when white people disproportionately perceive assertive, strong people of color as bossy or unreasonable or hot-headed.

The fabric of racism and white supremacy is tear-resistant and well-designed, and it is stronger than any one of us can break down on our own. While I still feel completely inadequate for the task, this group has given me a huge gift. Through this group, I don’t feel alone anymore; I see others like me trying to destroy that same fabric – sometimes only one stitch at a time. I now make it my goal to break “The White Contract” as much as possible – in conversations, group meetings, sermons, letters. I break it with family, friends, and church members. Knowing that I have this group provides support and accountability to me to do the work that I have known is right and good and pleasing in God’s sight for so long. To put it in United Methodist language, this group has given me new ways to resist the evil of white supremacy and racial injustice and oppression in whatever form it presents itself.

Rev. Jennifer Freymoyer, Pastor of Shoemakersville: Salem UMC and North District Assisting Elder.