A few years ago, when I was pastoring the Shallowford Presbyterian Church, our presbytery held some workshops to help us explore issues of racism. They needed churches to host these events, so we volunteered our church because we were centrally located and had the space. About 100 people showed up, evenly split between black and white. After a brief introduction, our convener asked us to gather around our tables with an equal number of black and white Presbyterians at each one. So, we all rearranged ourselves to do that.
I was wondering how we would enter into what I had experienced as very difficult -- to talk about matters of race. Our convener asked us to do one thing: each person at the table would talk about his or her experience of race and racism. That was it. So, we started going around the table, with each person telling their story while everyone listened. No one questioned, argued, or did anything more than to simply listen.
I have to admit it was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever been a part of when it comes to matters of race and racism. The most significant part of that time together was hearing the stories of my fellow Presbyterians who were black, as they talked about what it was like for them throughout their lives when it came to matters of race. My experience was growing up white in the suburbs of Atlanta, with occasional forays downtown each week to attend our church. Honestly, I had no idea what it was like to grow up black in Atlanta -- which is where many of those at the table grew up.
As I shared on Monday in Reflections, our staff wanted to focus our Reflections this week on matters of race in honor of the upcoming birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. next week. We not only wanted to share our insights and struggles, but to offer some concrete suggestions for what our members might do, or to offer some resources that might make a difference in us and our world.
So, what I would like to invite you to do is to find time to reach out to someone who comes from a different ethnic background from you and to have a conversation in which you simply ask them respectfully, if they would share with you what it was like for them to grow up in their context, and how they experienced race and racism. And then simply listen. You may want to offer to share your experience, if appropriate. I believe it could make a difference in your life, in their life, and in our world!