Courageous Church: Becoming Anti-Racist
God calls the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ to equip a courageous church alive with Christ’s transforming love.
Three years ago –just before the pandemic began, before the murder of George Floyd sparked a nation-wide reckoning with our nation’s racism – the Conference’s Board of Directors adopted a new “Calling Statement” for the Conference. It reminds us not only of the ministry God calls us to, but of the kind of church we want to be: God calls the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ to equip a courageous church alive with Christ’s transforming love.
Today I want to share one very important way we are striving to step into our calling to be a courageous church in the Minnesota Conference UCC.
It’s been said that systemic racism is this country’s original sin. And we cannot deny that it is true. From our displacement and violence against Indigenous Peoples when the first white immigrants settled on their sacred lands, to the long enslavement of and violence against Africans for our own economic gain, to the internment of the Japanese in the 1940s, to all the ways our economic, political, & legal systems still today disproportionately disadvantage people of color, white supremacy has been the collective sin that has done immense harm to communities of color for generations in this country.
The Church itself has often been complicit in this harm. Our own sacred scriptures have been used time and time again to justify that harm through history. Scripture, Christian symbols and the language of faith are frequently employed still today by “Christian nationalists”, hate-based groups, and those who still insist that white skin and white power must prevail at any cost.
In the United Church of Christ, we have a proud (but imperfect) history of striving to combat racism and lifting up the inherent dignity and worth of all who bear God’s image. The same is true here in the Minnesota Conference UCC. I was recently combing through decades of files in our Conference office, and found there ample evidence that the work of anti-racism has long been a commitment the Conference has aspired to live into.
Most recently, in 2019, Annual Meeting delegates approved language resolving to:
- acknowledge “racism as a pervasive sin that mars the full & equal recognition of God’s image in all people;
- apologize for the past actions of our faith and its members in the history of slavery, the genocidal abuse of Native people and communities, and the mistreatment of immigrants;
- call on the Conference, member churches and congregation members to make meaningful efforts to repair the historic & sinful violations that perpetuate white privilege today”, engaging in reparations of many forms.
Less than one year after Annual Meeting delegates passed that resolution, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Like so many others across our state and nation, the Board and staff of the MN Conference has spent time since then faithfully wrestling with and wondering how we might go deeper and more authentically embody our long-standing commitment to dismantling racism and repairing the harm that has historically been done.
To date, the Conference has taken several steps that we hope reflect our true intention to be an anti-racist Conference. Among those steps are:
- Instituting a new requirement for all authorized ministers in the Conference to receive at least 6 hours of anti-racism training every two years;
- Gifting $25,000 to the Minnesota Council of Churches for its “Truth-telling, Education, & Reparations” Initiative, helping this ground-breaking initiative launch and hire co-directors to lead it (both of whom are persons of color)
- Budgeting each year an amount of no less than $5,000 in a reparations fund, which we have thus far distributed to four organizations serving communities of color and led by persons of color
- Partnering with the Minnesota Council of Churches to offer “Healing Minnesota Stories” experiences to Conference members, a narrative, walking history of Indigenous peoples in the Twin Cities area (to date, the staff and 60 other Conference members have participated)
- Setting aside money in each year’s budget to provide specific support to clergy of color in our Conference
Most recently, the Conference contracted with Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing & Training to enter into a multi-year process of examining our own life together in the Minnesota Conference and identifying the ways we ourselves may still be doing harm. Our goal is to identify the barriers we may have unconsciously erected that prevent persons of color from being fully celebrated in our midst, and to recognize policies, practices and language we may utilize that perpetuate racism in our own churches and communities across the Conference.
Thus far, our staff, Board of Directors, and committee leadership have all received anti-racism training through Crossroads. In the next two months, we will convene an ad hoc working group that will shape and drive this work in the Conference moving forward, with the guidance of Crossroads partners. Persons of color who are already part of our Conference community have been invited to share their own experiences of the Conference to inform our assessment and understanding. Over time, this work will evolve and engage members across the Conference. Our hope is that it will be transformational for all of us who are the MN Conference UCC community.
Why have we chosen to commit this level of financial and human resources to the ministry of anti-racism?
It feels to us as if we are at a threshold, where we must choose whether we will accept and be complicit in the harm still being done to persons of color or finally, blessedly change and be leaders of transformation in our communities across the state. When we examine the whole of scripture, when we prayerfully consider the kind of world God has called us to create, we know that the Church cannot sit on the sidelines of this work. We are called to love our neighbors, boldly name and counter injustice and hate, and build communities where the image of God in every person is fully honored and celebrated. We must be leaders in and examples of the change we claim to want.
This is what it means to be a courageous church: a faith community that is willing to have the hard conversations, to take an honest look in the mirror, and to open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit for the sake of our own faithful transformation and the transformation of the communities and world we inhabit.
I invite your prayers for this process in our Conference, and I urge you to participate as you are invited to do so over the next year and beyond. Find ways for your congregation to engage in its own process of discernment around these issues. Join us on the journey to be a courageous church alive with Christ’s transforming love!
Here’s to courage,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Be Part of the Change – Ad Hoc Anti-Racism Working Group Members Sought
In the next two months, the Conference will convene a special ad hoc working group (6-8 people) tasked with shaping our anti-racism work, identifying objectives and strategies to advance it. The group will meet for 90 minutes monthly, led by our Crossroads partners and staffed by Conference Minister Shari Prestemon. Ad Hoc members will:
- Be either Authorized ministers or lay members from anywhere in the MN Conference UCC
- Bring a personal commitment to anti-racism
- Exhibit an openness to learning and exploring
- Have an ability to work well with others who have different experiences and understandings
- Have a personal faith that anchors and informs everything we do.
- Commit to one year of active participation in this group, regularly attending meetings and performing tasks in between as needed
If you’d like to learn more about participating in this way or be considered for the ad hoc group, please contact Conference Minister Shari Prestemon at email@example.com. Help us be a courageous church!