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Sacred Conversations: Becoming The Beloved Community

Author: Joe McDaniel, Jr.

The group photo of the Diocesan Participants who joined in Holy Conversations

Racial Reconciliation. What does the term conjure up in your mind? Does it cause you to put your head in the sand and say: "I don't want think about the past because it fills me with shame and guilt. Why do we even need to have these workshops? We live in a post-racial society. After all, we just had an African-American president."

On December 7, 2019, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Mobile, a gathering of parishioners from the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast addressed the issue in a most Christian like manner. In Holy Sacred Conversations, the workshop participants answered: no, the purpose of such conversations is not to make others feel guilt or shame for the sins of past generations. The only thing we can do is to be forward looking in working to create the Beloved Community of Christ. However, to create that community, we must acknowledge the wrong doings of the past so that we can move forward to reaching our fullest potential in becoming that Beloved Community. The creation of that community begins with each person taking a prompt single step to the betterment of that community. As Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta has stated, in quoting Anne Frank: "How wonderful it is that no one needs to wait a single moment to improve the world."

To quote Bishop Kendrick when he began a previous workshop with the Holy Eucharist: "...When you heard the cry and saw the affliction of your people in Egypt, you placed a burning bush on the holy mountain as a sign of your unending presence in the midst of our suffering. You called your servant to deliver us from the oppression of slavery and injustices..."

We are all called by our Baptismal Covenants to respect "the dignity of every human being." That work begins with reconciliation to one another. The hard work of reconciliation begins by opening a dialogue between each other. After all, how can we tear down the barriers that divide us if we don't know one another?

Engaging in One-on-One Holy Conversations

We began the workshop by telling each other one thing about ourselves that someone would not know by looking at us. Some of the findings were startling and the conclusion that we gathered from the exercise was that you truly "can't judge a book by its cover." Each of us has a unique story that together creates a beautiful tapestry of diversity in the Beloved Community.

Next, we expressed our hopes and concerns about attending the workshop. The theme that emerged from the hope segment was for an understanding of the healing process necessary to address the wounds of racism that divide our society. Conversely, the theme that emerged from the concerns segment was one of not being blamed for the past wrongful actions of previous generations.

The participants were then put through a series of exercises where they were asked questions which were meant to create a better understanding of each other’s perspective on racial awareness. The participants came away from the exercise with mixed feelings. Some were astonished by what they heard, some were moved to tears by what they heard, and some were not surprised at all by what they heard. However, all walked away from the exercise with a deeper understanding of why each participant felt the way he/she did about racial issues. For it is only by truly listening to another's expressions of their life experiences that we can truly empathize with each other and truly become reconciled to each other.

After a delicious lunch and group picture, the conversation turned to the concepts of White Privilege and Internalized Oppression. Some of the participants had never thought about the concepts and were bewildered at the idea that their success in life could be traced to the concept of White Privilege. Yet others were not surprised by the adverse impact of White Privilege - Internalized Oppression - but came to see it as a natural result of hundreds of years of racism and oppression. The atmosphere in the room was dramatically changed, as if an oppressive cloud hung overhead, as people shared stories about their White Privilege and others gave examples of their Internalized Oppression.

The final exercise of the day lifted both the oppressive cloud and the spirits of the participants as they completed an exercise constructing their vision of a perfect congregation where there were no barriers to inclusion in the life of the church. The exercise proved meaningful as it created a spirit of unity and hope for what might be, and could be, for the Beloved Community, if we truly lived in a post-racial society.

The workshop concluded with the participants commissioning and promising to be voices in the fight against injustice and oppression wherever and whenever they encounter it.


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