Beloved Community: Spreading the Love

How do we build community, embrace our Baptismal Covenant and dismantle racism together? Read the second 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

We had no way to envision that efforts to make our work more viable in the Episcopal Church in Middle and North Georgia would begin to bear fruit in the wider church.

That’s why it is exciting to share that the Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism has been asked to serve as a consultant for several dioceses. The circle continues to widen!

Spreading the word about our work began with members of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s staff: Heidi Kim, Missioner for Racial Reconciliation, and Charles Wynder, Jr., Missioner for Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement. Now word continues to spread through folks who have visited with us in Atlanta.

The Diocese of Louisiana was the first to reach out to us. Its Commission for Racial Reconciliation has experienced some of the same struggles that we have. These challenges include creation of a mission statement, developing a single focus and training. There was debate about whether to use a secular-based training model, or one that is more spiritually grounded. Ultimately, Bishop Morris King Thompson, Jr. and the Louisiana Commission began training with a spiritual formation format.

The Louisiana group invited me to lead its annual retreat. The co-chairs and I worked on an agenda together, and the weekend retreat went very well.

Several Louisiana Diocese members then came to Atlanta to participate in one of our training sessions! We continue to offer support and prayers as they move forward with their training program. Their commission completed a pilot session, and is now making its work more visible. We are glad that connecting, engaging, and sharing our experience has been helpful to our sisters and brothers in Louisiana.

A few months later, we were contacted by the Diocese of Chicago about the possibility of coming to Atlanta to consult with us. Of course, we were delighted, and we identified a date when Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago, and Bishop Rob Wright could meet. It was encouraging to have both bishops demonstrate their strong commitment to the work of dismantling racism.

Our community rose to the occasion by greeting our Chicago visitors in great fashion! St. Luke's hosted a lovely dinner. Epiphany, Incarnation and St. Bede’s also hosted conversations with the Commission and our Chicago guests. This outstanding hospitality and enthusiasm gave strong testimony to our work to give the Beloved Community a chance to be born here. The Chicago delegation was quite amazed at the level of trust, openness, care and honesty that was present at all of our gatherings.

Evidence of our progress was demonstrated by the fact that we had 18 Diocese of Atlanta parishes participate in the one-day consulting encounter with the Chicago group. It was impressive to listen to voices from around our diocese share stories about the dismantling racism work in their home parishes.

Six members of the Chicago delegation have returned to be with us for a recent training day. The dialogue will continue as we seek additional ways to offer support.

Yes, momentum in the wider church is building. A member of the Diocese of Pennsylvania Mission Institute will join us this summer for our “Train the Trainer” workshop. In the fall, I’ll lead retreats for the Diocese of Eastern Carolina and the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. We’ve also received inquiries from the Dioceses of Massachusetts, the Gulf Coast, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Rhode Island and Austin, Texas.

Together, let’s strive—with God’s help—to multiply the impact of building the Beloved Community.