“As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we dream and work to foster Beloved Communities where all people may experience dignity and abundant life and see themselves and others as beloved children of God.” Becoming Beloved Community
Many churches have hosted speakers, organized teaching series, and participated in outreach events around issues of racial justice; it is more difficult to engage in the ongoing, long-term, intentional, and sustainable work of racial reconciliation. Below are two stories of congregation doing just that, using the Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community resources.
In these stories of Becoming Beloved Community from St. Paul’s and St. John’s, you’ll notice that no one is claiming to be doing this work perfectly. If we wait until we are sure we’ll get it “right,” we may never start. You may also notice that the ongoing work was initiated by a teaching series – speakers and series and events are important. When you notice energy around these conversations, don’t be afraid to keep the conversation going!
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church | Fayetteville, AR
Following the events in Charlottesville in 2017, our parish felt an urgency to respond to racism and white supremacy. I say “felt” because the urgency had always been there; only our attention to it was new.
Our congregation, which is mostly white, affluent, and justice-oriented, was unsure how to respond to this urgency. So, we began with a teaching series named, “What can we do about racism?” in which we explored the four quadrants of the Becoming Beloved Community model. At the end of the series, we simply offered an invitation: if you would like to continue talking about racism and what you can do about it, keep showing up. We’ve continued to meet since then, beginning with a weekly meeting and then moving to meeting twice a month.
Anti-racism work can be challenging, especially as we all enter the conversation with varying levels of understanding of the intersectionality of racism and social justice. In order to make participation accessible, we kept the formatting loose. To start, the only commitment was that each person pursues learning about racial justice through personal study and share their learning and growth at our meetings.
Over the past three years, the group has transitioned its purpose to engage the whole parish in anti-racist work. We now spend half of our time together in conversation over a book. The other half of our meeting is spent organizing around three big goals we have for our congregation this year: taking a pilgrimage, bringing anti-racism training to our parish leadership, and engaging people in small group conversations on a quarterly basis.
Our group is committed to becoming beloved community through looking inwards and getting our own houses in order, engaging with others in the wider community as we are invited to, and showing up for the long haul.
St. John’s Episcopal Church | Wake Forest, NC
On a freezing cold Martin Luther King day in 2017, about 200 people from different faith communities gathered in the sanctuary of Olive Branch Baptist Church in Wake Forest and made the following pledge:
I believe that every single one of us — regardless of who we are or where we come from — deserves a decent life.
Like Dr. King, I believe in a Beloved Community of justice, equal opportunity and love of my fellow human beings.
I want to help build a world that leaves no room for poverty, prejudice or violence.
I pledge to work together with my neighbors, side by side, to create strength, stability and self-reliance for all.
I ask others to join me — it’s up to us to make this a reality.
This public profession coupled with the Episcopal Church’s framework for building Beloved Community and walking the Way of Love set the leaders at St. John’s on an intentional and dedicated path of guiding our parish to walking the labyrinth of racial reconciliation and doing the work of becoming a Beloved Community.
Church leaders posted this pledge for all to see, our rector preached about the spirit and scripture behind this pledge, and we began to integrate the concept of building Beloved Community into our worship, outreach, youth ministry and adult formation. To build a foundation for our work, our parishioners were asked to listen to the podcast Scene on Radio Season 1: Seeing White for our weekly Lenten Adult Formation that year. We linked the personal stories, scientific research and historical overview of race and privilege discussed in the podcast to Scripture and followed the Way of Love framework for learning and praying for racial reconciliation. This combination initiated changed hearts, opened minds, and inspired the formation of a monthly gathering of diverse parishioners to continue this work. Three years later, our Beloved Community group remains one of our largest and most committed adult formation gatherings.
Thanks to the leadership of our Beloved Community group, St John’s parishioners have committed to learning and turning by taking deep dives into books, articles, podcasts and movies that unpack the difficult history of our Church, the continued injustice of segregated schools, our criminal justice system, and our state. We have committed to listening to the stories and learning the experiences of people in our community.
In addition to learning, listening and prayer, we have focused on creating opportunities to build relationships with diverse people in our broader community. We have reached beyond our church walls to partner with out town, a community coalition, and many of the neighboring churches who also took the pledge to build Beloved Community in order to set up a Summer Nutrition Program and monthly community meals giving us the opportunity to learn, break bread with our neighbors and build relationships. We have participated in our community’s Juneteenth Celebration each year and we organized a walking tour to learn the history, vibrancy, and hardships of a redlined section of our town. The power of the pledge we took with our neighbors three years ago continues to fuel us to learn, read, listen, build relationship and pray for our Beloved Community.
Becoming Beloved Community labyrinth image courtesy of The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society – Protestant Episcopal Church US. All materials related to Becoming Beloved Community can be found on its website.
Samantha Clare serves as the Director of Christian Formation at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, AR. She has a passion for spreading Jesus’ call for social justice and she helps people to make connections between their daily and spiritual lives so that they can bring their whole and authentic selves to the world. You can find more of her writing at samanthaclare.me.
Joy Shillingsburg serves as the Director of Youth and Outreach at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wake Forest, NC. She has also served as the co-leader of the Beloved Community Adult Formation group at St. John’s for more than three years. She brings fifteen years of experience as a middle and high school history teacher to her work.