This post was written by Jon Greene, member of St. Thomas', Christiansburg and Postulant for the Diaconate. The photographs were provided by the Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith.
I have often been frustrated in the past few months.
Let’s face it, it has been a tumultuous 2017 so far. From my perspective, there seems to have been more frequent and more overt acts of racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ activity. Our divided, and often bitter, nation seems to be in greater need of reconciliation than it has been for a long time. Responding to this situation, there seem to be a whole lot of well-intentioned people out there trying to make something happen.
There is what seems to be a never-ending stream of meetings and seminars and trainings intended to address these issues, many of which I have attended. I often left them with the feeling that I agreed with many of the people in the room, that it was nice to hang out with them, but I didn’t feel like we’d accomplished anything and I doubted anything positive was going to come out of it.
Allyship training was different.
First, Whitney Parnell, the creator of the training and the CEO of the non-profit Service Never Sleeps, and our own Rev. Anne Grizzle brought an energy, enthusiasm, and freshness to the training that would be hard to duplicate. Let’s face it, a lot of anti-racism training and the like is just a little bit stale.
Second, I think we all recognized that we needed to go to some slightly uncomfortable places, confront our own biases (sometimes that we didn’t even recognize), and start grappling with some of the uglier sorts of behavior in our society. We all came to grips with the fact that, in some ways, all of us were privileged but that simultaneously there were ways in which all of us were or had been marginalized. Perhaps most importantly, some of us—maybe most of us, including myself - needed to recognize that we were far more privileged than most.
Finally, this training is not about discussing why we have racism (or sexism or whatever sort of marginalization) or even how it manifests itself. Not to suggest that is not important, but this training is about what to do when someone is marginalized. What are the specific skills and strategies that we, as Christians, should be using to address this marginalization?
I walked out of the training with the sense that I knew what I could do to start making a difference. There is no magic wand here, of course. We were provided skills and strategies for how to “intervene” when someone is being marginalized and to “engage” when the opportunity presents. We didn’t walk out of the class as experts in these skills, and the actions that we take as individuals are not going to create the Kingdom of God overnight. We did walk out of the training with tools that we could begin to practice with the goal of moving the needle and changing the world one soul at a time.
As a result of this training, we now have a core of qualified trainers in the Diocese, with at least one in each convocation. I’d love to see every parish provided the opportunity to participate in this training.