Changing Racism I Class, Fall 2015.

Race Matters: Seeking to bridge the divide

White privilege, inter-cultural, micro-aggressions, unconscious bias, cultural competency, racial equity…

While “prejudice,” “diversity” and “inclusiveness” may be familiar terms to many, these more in-depth concepts are becoming known by an increasing number of Eastern PA Conference members, as they engage in race and racism dialogues and training across the conference.

DSC_0878The weekend-long Changing Racism Level I classes are mandatory for all clergy and conference staff, some of whom prefer this model to the alternative Healing the Wounds of Racism workshops. Changing Racism is conducted by facilitators from Visions, Inc., which has done training and consulting in diversity and inclusion since 1984.

The conference also sponsored a first-time, half-day Changing Racism Level II class Oct. 17, partly in response to recent incidents of national concern involving killings of unarmed black victims, some by white police officers, and resulting protests and dialogues about racial bias and injustice.

“We will reflect on ways we are engaged in a society whose patterns of racism are becoming more visible,” read a description of the Level II class. “We will also examine what we can do in our lives, in the church and in our communities to promote change.”

Such examination has been occurring across the conference this year in a growing number of dialogues about race and racism. At least four districts have held talks, a Cabinet initiative to engage members in candid discussions, learning, and considerations of next steps to take.

DSC_0884Several churches have also hosted dialogues, including First UMC of Germantown and Grandview UMC in Lancaster, which hosted a Nov. 10 conversation sponsored by the ecumenical Parish Resource Center. Also, the June killing of nine members and the beloved pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., for which a young white gunman seeking to start a race war awaits trial, prompted several of our churches to participate in activities with AME churches in their communities.

Last spring each district and the Board of Ordained Ministry participated in daylong Conversations on Intercultural Communication for laity and clergy, led by staff from the General Commission on Religion and Race and organized by the Central District. Recently, the conference also convened clergy and laity involved in cross-racial and cross-cultural church appointments to learn and dialogue about that bridge-building ministry adventure.

And in September Connectional Ministries hosted a small dialogue on race and racism at the conference office. One outcome of that discussion will be periodic movie nights to view and discuss race-themed films. All are invited to the first gathering, Dec. 8 at 5:30 PM, to eat together and then view “White People” a 1-hour YouTube video about white privilege produced by Jose Antonio Vargas.

There will likely be more gatherings in 2016 to talk, teach, listen and learn about race matters, including Annual Conference in June, which will focus on this topic both in general and specifically in our church’s repentance for historic mistreatment of Native Americans. Thus, NEWSpirit will publish more articles on the subject, as concerned, courageous conference members struggle together to know the truths that may one day set us free.