How do we build community, embrace our Baptismal Covenant and dismantle racism together? Read the first in a series of reflections by Dr. Catherine Meeks, chair of Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism. Parish participation, transformation and commitment are gaining traction and national attention.
By Dr. Catherine Meeks
Our shared work to dismantle racism is thriving. There is new life and energy as together we imagine the way forward. Our work has become far more visible throughout the diocese, and local parishes are creatively making it part of their ongoing spiritual formation.
This is crucial. Building Beloved Community requires that we dismantle racism. This work must be done daily by the sisters and brothers who make up the worshiping communities of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.
Together we are creating the space for the Beloved Community to come into being. Our new mission statement makes it clear that we firmly stand on our Baptismal Covenant to love and respect the dignity of every person. Our intention is to act in ways that will not allow racism to live among us. This is the work of God’s church — and it needs to be firmly rooted on the same foundation that holds the church.
While our work is flourishing, this has not always been the case. In 2000, our General Convention established a structure for the formation of anti-racism commissions. Commissions were charged with making sure that every leader in the Episcopal Church participated in anti-racism training. Our diocese stepped up to the plate, formed a commission and began training.
The training was not very popular. Across the diocese — after about a decade of work — many voices declared that both the commission’s name and the training were offensive to them. The commission involved itself in few activities beyond training, and its visibility was low.
When I joined the group in 2009, there was a clear need to transform our approach. We crafted a new mission statement, scheduled retreats and read together Bishop Desmond Tutu's powerful book, Made For Goodness. The training came to a halt.
In 2010, I agreed to lead the task of restarting it. After exploring ways to make the training more appropriate for the needs of participants, we made a major change — one that has borne wonderful fruit for our diocese. We added the celebration of Holy Communion to the training day, and we centered the training in spiritual formation.
We now offer Eucharist-centered Dismantling Racism Training. It helps participants see the day as a part of their ongoing spiritual formation, and it encourages them to replicate what they learn in their daily lives and in parish life.
We changed our name to Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism. We moved our cathedral-based meetings out into the diocese. Six parishes now host the trainings and we have invited parishioners to actively participate. This has made a tremendous difference. The parishes extend amazing hospitality, and parishioners find it is a wonderful opportunity to learn more and to engage. We begin each meeting with spiritual formation led by one of our members.
We aim to make the commission the people's commission — your commission.
Can you openly imagine what your role might be in building our Beloved Community? Can you envision how you might help dismantle racism?
We are grateful for our transformation and for the enthusiasm that is growing across our diocese. The national church community is excited about our work, too.
We invite your prayers and active participation. Join us as we walk on the path with Jesus to create Beloved Community. Anyone with thoughts or ideas about the work of the Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism, and who would like to share them, is invited to send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more about the work of the commission, visit here.