Rev. Sheila Holmes (Paterson, NJ, CRCNA Council of Delegates member) and Rev. Marco Avila (Resonate, US East Coast) recognized the need for a corporate response to racism, and convened seven one-hour conversations in June and July for the four East Coast classes. “It is mainly to bring awareness of systemic racism and the need to start being proactive within church, community, and in personal encounters, not only by listening to the stories of others different from you but also by acting justly in the realm of being one Christian body,” says Sheila.
Each session had a slightly different focus, involved preparatory work, and was guided by James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” About 40 pastors and leaders joined each week.
The sessions covered a lot of ground. Folks shared their race testimonies, described their efforts to combat systemic racism, learned more about historical context, received unconscious bias training, and much more. Each session was rich; I found myself deeply moved. Marco acknowledged this can only be a first step. “I think more formal workshops that encourage appropriate action might be next,” he noted.
Sheila expanded on this, noting, “The short term hope is that those listening will challenge their church to do something out of the ordinary. Something as simple as connecting with a predominantly minority church and start honestly listening and sharing and see how God will use them to make a difference. For me the long term goal is for the CRCNA to move from a mono-cultural mindset to understanding God wants to upset leadership and congregations to truly understand what it means to be ‘one in unity.’”
P.S. One of the homework assignments for these sessions would bless everyone who serves the CRC. Check out Dr. Timothy Keller's teaching on why systemic racism is a biblical concept important for Christians to be aware of.