Seeing the Work of BKB for the First Time
When we make field visits in Iringa, we often say that Bega Kwa Bega has two ‘shoulders’ – the B[...]
Dear Friends in Christ,
As we moved through Holy Week this year, we did so with a deep aching for the resurrection hope and promise that come at Easter. This past year, all of us have felt the toll of living with the pandemic. We are keenly aware that our world is crying out for racial justice and equity. We recognize that the very earth itself groans under the weight of threats to the global environment. Together, we join in longing for the transformation that the Risen Christ brings to our lives, our neighborhoods, and the whole created order.
The people of the Saint Paul Area Synod – all 108,000 of us – belong to 110 distinct congregations and mission starts. While we are predominantly people of European heritage, this synod includes African American, African descent, Asian American, Latinx, and Indigenous rostered ministers and laity. Our social and political perspectives span the gamut from conservative to progressive, as do our homes in urban, suburban, and rural contexts. What connects us is our faith in Jesus Christ.
Over the past several years there have been a variety of programs, designed to address racism in this synod. There have been book discussion groups, learning cohorts, anti-racism training for congregational leaders, mini grants to help congregations with their initiatives, film recommendations, and experiential learning opportunities. The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) has been introduced to help individuals and organizations assess and develop knowledge, attitudes, and skills for engaging diversity. Even during the pandemic, Zoom conversations continued, allowing participants to learn more about the history and impact of racism in this country.
Each of these activities has been a helpful step. However, with the death of George Floyd, many of us recognized a new urgency to address our own attitudes and to help our churches be places where all people are regarded and respected as gifted children of God.
Now, with the joy of Easter before us and the promise of greater safety to gather in person in new ways, it is time to step into a time of wrestling with the consequences of racism in a bolder way. During the 50 days of the Easter season this year, I invite you personally to join me in making a commitment to an ongoing initiative to address racism in all its forms, to seek God’s help in changing our own attitudes and practices that are racist, and to examine and change those habits and actions that have estranged us from one another.
Out of a time of dedicated reflection and prayer during Advent and into 2021, I am convinced that this is soul work we need to do now to live fully as the Christian community we are called to be. While many issues clamor for our attention, we cannot authentically address the vitality of congregational life or our efforts at outreach into the wider community without also addressing the ways we have allowed racism to diminish our witness as disciples of Jesus Christ, the fundamental identity given to us at baptism.
The specific initiative to which you are invited is called The Road Toward Racial Justice. It is not a packaged program, led by one committee or group of leaders. Instead, it is a commitment to the lifelong work of better understanding and addressing the systems of racism and white privilege that shape attitudes, perspectives, and relationships within our households and faith communities, and diminish our national and global work as a church.
In this initiative we each begin where we are, trusting that God is calling us to live in a way that reflects the power of Christ at work in our lives. Some come to this initiative out of years of deep investment in the work of being an antiracist. Others find themselves being beckoned for the first time into new awareness and learning. As we proclaim in the synod’s statement of purpose, “We are not there yet. We are on the way together.”
The image of a road is broad enough to suggest that there is room for all of us – young and old alike – to join in this soul work, beginning right where we are in our own understanding and experience. The word toward is a reminder that this will be a long process of listening, learning, and repenting in order to grow into relationships and attitudes that fully recognize and respect the diversity of all the children of God. Naming the goal as racial justice acknowledges that perceptions of race and prejudice toward those of other races have seeped into all aspects of our life at a deep and often unnoticed level.
The invitation to join others on The Road Toward Racial Justice comes with the understanding that there needs to be multiple opportunities to engage antiracism work in a way that leads to personal and cultural transformation. This diagram offers a glimpse of the many groups already addressing racial equity. (It is simply a draft to suggest the many activity centers and leaders in racial justice work across the Saint Paul Area Synod.)
In the diagram above you can see work groups within the synod, each sponsoring specific experiences and formal learning opportunities; collaboration with synod ministry partners like the Minnesota Council of Churches and Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota; the efforts of the Guatemala and the Iringa committees to employ the model of accompaniment; and actions by the Synod Council and Synod Assemblies. Please note that the committees of the synod, as well as formal procedures like the call process, are highlighted as arenas in which work on racial justice is underway. Most importantly, there is room in this design for every congregation’s initiatives. That is likely the arena where the greatest transformation of our common life will occur.
When the Risen Christ first appeared to the disciples on Easter evening, he said – “Peace be with you” and transformed their fear into joy (John 20:19-20). The same power of Christ’s resurrection gives us the courage to examine our own lives and institutions today, trusting that a Living God is leading us toward justice and equity for all the beloved children of God.
I invite you to commit yourself to this journey with other persons in the Saint Paul Area Synod:
Click the button below to complete a brief commitment form. You will be asked for your email address (optional) so that we might occasionally send you a reminder, a reflection from a fellow traveler or a brief message of support.
Bishop Patricia Lull