Dear People of Christ Church,
This past February, about a month before we ceased in-person worship, we heard these words from the 58th chapter of Isaiah:
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
You shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
The prophet is telling the people of Israel that how they worship is important, yes, but it means nothing if righteous moral action does not accompany holy rituals. Our thoughts and prayers towards those who are suffering are a nice gesture, but they do not mean a lot if there is something, anything, we can do to ease that suffering. Isaiah is reminding the people of God that how they treat those around them reflects how they treat God.
Our world, and particularly our country, suffers from many ills right now. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the calls for action on racial justice and equity are reaching a crescendo that our country has not experienced in nearly two generations. The causes of that lack of equity go back before any of our lifetimes, but we live with the repercussions every day, even here in New Bern. For too many years, predominately white churches have sat on the sidelines and let other groups respond to the calls for justice for minority communities. We cannot do that anymore.
This time must be different. This is the time for predominately white churches to care, listen, and learn of the pain this lack of justice and equity has caused for our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we must discern what role we can play in being repairers of the breach in ways that we have not done previously.
It is a tall task, and I believe we are up to it. We do not face these challenges alone, and in fact we do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). When we are asked in the Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being, we say, I will with God’s help.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Here are two steps that Christ Church will use to begin that journey.
First – In the coming weeks, the Christ Church staff will complete a program called Dismantling Racism. It was developed at the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Meg Jones, Director of Christian Formation, is a trainer for the program and will lead the staff through this process.
Second – Last summer, members of our Education for Ministry class (EfM) were moved to read more about racial reconciliation and healing. And more importantly, they were moved to bring that conversation to the whole parish. It began back in January when members led a discussion on the book Waking up White by Debby Irving. The Library was filled. The discussions often went on right up to the start of the 11:00am service. Their plan was to include guest speakers about the history of race in New Bern, but the pandemic had other ideas. They recorded two interviews with Nelson McDaniel, which can be found on our YouTube channel. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.
The book study and the presentations laid the groundwork for a deeper discussion, also open to the whole parish. Sacred Ground is a film- and readings-based dialogue series on race, grounded in faith in Jesus. It is a 10-part series developed by Katrina Browne, the director/producer of the documentary Traces of the Trade. Ms. Browne preached at Christ Church in February 2010 during Diocesan Convention. We will have more information in July about the launch of this initiative.
On a larger scale, the Diocese of East Carolina is revamping the work of the Racial Reconciliation Commission, with the intention that formation opportunities will be offered for the people of God in all our parishes and especially for those in leadership. It will not just be a “box to check off” but a chance to be formed and empowered to make a lasting difference in the name of God when it comes to the myriad issues of racial inequities in our communities. This is work that our Diocese has taken seriously for many years. Each January, Vestry members at Christ Church and Vestry members all over our Diocese affirm they have “read and hereby agreed to abide by the Anti-Racism Resolutions adopted at the 124th and reaffirmed at the 128th Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of East Carolina.” You can read those resolutions here.
What am I doing personally in this journey? Actively seeking ways to broaden my perspective on these issues. I’ve added several books to my summer reading list, and I look forward to further conversations with those who have deeper experience than me in the realm of racial equity. I’m nearly finished with the book White Fragility, a very insightful read. The critically acclaimed How to be an Antiracist is next on my list. I will also be joining a city-wide clergy gathering at the end of June to talk more about the topic of racial justice and equity.
As I said in my sermon on June 7th, these conversations may make us mad and sad and uncomfortable. That is ok because it will give us hope, and it will give us an amazing glimpse of the Kingdom of God like we have never had before. It’s not up to us as individuals to solve all the issues; but it is up to us as followers of Jesus to contribute to the solutions. Together, God will equip us to raise up the foundations of many generations and be the repairers of the breach!
You continue in my prayers, and I’m thankful for your prayers, too
The Rev. H. Paul Canady III