This post was written by the Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith.
Something mysterious and also affirming happens when folks gather in the name of Christ to support one another in ministry. Such an opportunity was offered to and accepted by three of our diocesan leaders. It was a church-wide gathering with the staff of the new Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, GA the evening of February 28 and the day of March 1. The three leaders all are on the core leadership team in the diocese for dismantling racism. They are: The Rev. Anne Grizzle, Chaplain for Boys’ Home; The Rev. Preston Mitchell, Deacon in the Abingdon Convocation; and The Ven. Melissa Hays-Smith, Archdeacon.
A trip to Atlanta for an evening and day of meetings seems like a long way to go from Roanoke, but there were Episcopalians there from much farther away: Oregon; Colorado; Maine and even Latin America and the Caribbean (Province IX) to name a few. This took a tremendous amount of effort and resources for all of us to gather. In the end, there were more participants than expected – 80 people. This included laity and clergy, with at least one or two bishops in attendance.
We broke bread together, we worshipped together and we shared our thoughts and initiatives with one another. The participants, who were there to learn, also were an inspiration to the staff of the Absalom Jones Center and to one another, as we came together to address institutional racism. In the end, any resources spent on this effort more than paid off in the energy that was generated for what can be the overwhelming work ahead.
The first evening we gathered as a group at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta for a meal and brief program of introduction for the next day’s events. The hosts were not sure what to expect and when people kept arriving, we all were asked to “hold back” on how much food we took from the buffet. Not surprisingly, there was more than enough for us all – a real Christian theme of abundance. We heard from our host, Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the new center, the Presiding Bishop’s staff, local leaders, and even a man who had grown up as a white supremacist reading the Bible daily with his family, but later had been led to see a different Christian path.
The following day, we gathered at All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta to share with one another throughout the day. We were assigned randomly to discussion groups and in the morning following Holy Eucharist, we were asked to share the strengths and weaknesses of what we currently are doing to dismantle racism. Following lunch, we shared the opportunities and challenges we face as we approach future initiatives for dismantling racism. Ideas that were shared stimulated more ideas. We literally shared and discussed until we were spent.
Now that we are back home in DIOSWVA, the leadership for Becoming Beloved Community is expanding and has representatives all across our diocese. A large group of us are gathering for an overnight leadership retreat later in March to deepen our understanding of this ministry and to plan for efforts throughout 2018 and early 2019. Here are opportunities to look for in the coming weeks and months:
- Allyship training in Lynchburg (March 17) and Staunton (March 18) with follow-up formation of “Allyship in Action” groups. Additional allyship training and group development will take place in other parts of the diocese in the coming months. Contact Melissa Hays-Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.
- Story sharing events, scheduled at parishes or in communities across the diocese. Contact Anne Grizzle (email@example.com) for further information and to request a story-sharing event.
- Sacred pilgrimages, involving travel to and acknowledgment of sites within DIOSWVA where racially devastating events have taken place. Worship experiences will be offered to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Contact Preston Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information or to share ideas.
- “Claiming our Stories”, dismantling racism education offered at various sites in the diocese. Contact Nina Salmon (email@example.com) for further information.
These initiatives will be listed in “Church-wide Initiatives” on the website for the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing (www.centerforracialhealing.org), as we remain connected in this ministry across the whole Episcopal Church.