Perspectives on racial reconciliation in the church
By Constance and Dain Perry
Racial Justice Ministers
As we have travelled across America over the last 15 years screening the documentary film Traces of the Trade, we have noticed a change in the conversation after the film. People of all races express more concern about the racial climate than they have in past years. They are feeling a sense of confusion as to what to do about it, and a sense of urgency to learn how to engage in safe and constructive conversations on race.
Many people who are white are expressing regret that they were not aware of the depth and breadth of racial tensions which have evolved, and many people of color are expressing a deeper sense of anxiety and even fear, not so much for themselves but more for their children and grandchildren.
Fortunately, we also see positive action being taken to address these issues in many communities. Not enough, but many. Most of the actions being taken are on a local basis, with faith communities playing a major role. Some quick examples: an Episcopal parish which has played a leadership role in convening a committee representing a cross-section of the city, including major law enforcement, justice and city leaders, which meets monthly to address issues of race which may arise. Or a diocese which worked with a local District Attorney to divert first-time youth offenders to give the youth a second chance.
Other examples include a rector who reached out to a local black clergy group, and as a result, that group and a group of white clergy meets regularly for the first time ever. Or a parish which runs a five-week summer program, a combination of summer school and camp, for inner-city students who are on the edge of falling out of the system. There are many other wonderful and imaginative examples of the Episcopal Churches having transformative impact in their communities.
But again, not enough.
The National Episcopal Church has become a major player in taking action. The Church has made a major long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation and justice through a program called Becoming Beloved Community. It will be made available to parishes in the near future.
There is also a significant effort taking place right here in the Diocese of Texas, through the work of the Episcopal Health Foundation. Realizing that racism can lead to major health problems, the Foundation has undertaken a program for racial reconciliation. The powerful concept behind this is that parishes need not do this work alone. EHF has worked with the Union of Black Episcopalians, the Commission on Black Ministry, Diocesan staff and other parishes and groups within the Diocese to connect and support our collective efforts.
Not only is there dedicated staff, financial, and technical support from EHF, but parishes are encouraged to work together in communities or regions, and to reach out to other local faith organizations to get them involved. Importantly, follow-up training is available through EHF resources. This offers a powerful opportunity for parishes to have a significant impact in their community by addressing a very challenging societal issue.
Constance and Dain Perry retired early from their professional careers to fully commit themselves to their racial justice ministry. Dain is in the film and together, he and Constance bring unique perspectives that resonate well with churches.