Saturday 30 June brought Riverside Conversations (the convention center is on the Allegheny) at the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Commissioners, advisory delegates, and others gathered to consider a range of topics. Some conversations looked at issues before the assembly, some at broader topics in the life of the church.
My friend and colleague Irene Pak and I (our mutual friend and colleague Bruce Reyes-Chow took the photo for us) led an introductory conversation on the church’s need to address racism if we wish to live into the wondrous diversity God creates.
We started with prayer and then had participants (somewhere near 50 in number) introduce themselves and share an experience of diversity. A brief reflection on diversity, race (social construct built on the diversity God creates) and racism (people with power granting themselves privilege based on that construct) followed. We acknowledged that the Presbyterian Church has a mixed record on race and racism – as do all churches and institutions. We have helped create racism – we help perpetuate racism – and we help dismantle racism. A litany affirming God’s intention that we live together in diversity and reminding us of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s commitment followed.
The group then heard three remarkable stories of efforts to dismantle racism: the work of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh that began with a focus on slavery in Western Pennsylvania; the New Beginning Initiative toward reconciliation between the Alaska Natives and Presbyterians; and a range of efforts that focus on racism in the criminal justice system.
Participants then used Mutual Invitation to engage in conversations about what they had heard. The event closed with the song “I’m Going to Live So God Can Use Me” as our prayer.
In my closing observations, I noted that working to dismantle racism is a calling for a life-time. It is ongoing work. It is challenging work. It involves us in encountering other systems of oppression, privilege, and domination. It is a journey. But it is a journey God calls us to make. And it is a journey on which we have wonderful traveling companions.
See you along the Trail.