If my past year had a prologue, it might have been coffee with Ann Knox at Early Bird Biscuit Company: maskless, at a tiny table that certainly did not have us 6 feet apart. Ann was pitching me on coming on the Session, and neither of us had any reason to think that didn’t mean 3rd Tuesday evenings in the Mizpah conference room, considering plans for a church that held sanctuary worship every Sunday. What a quaint memory!
Church, in a significant way, has felt confined to Brady Bunch-style faces on a screen since then. As Carla has often mentioned, Zoom is an imperfect way to worship. It has kept us afloat and in touch, Carla’s wonderful sermons are more intimate, and Doug has become a giant of virtual choir mastering. But as much as I love the Angert family, being behind their still image each week for Somos Uno is just not the same as playing the drums.
And yet, I experience the past year as an extremely significant one for our church, one that may serve as a gateway to great growth in our life of faith.
In the summer, behind George Floyd’s death and the creation of Marcus-David Peters Circle, I was invited to join a group of us to craft a statement on racial injustice. In our first meeting, Mati Moros cautioned that even a mailer from Victoria’s Secret included a social justice statement. We agreed we were called to think beyond a simple assertion that GPPC is against racism.
As we felt ourselves pulled in a confessional direction, the task seemed daunting. Three of us were people of color, the other six white. Confessing to an ancestry of enslaving people did not fit all of us, just as did not an ancestry of enslavement. Not all of us were eligible for the perks and abuses of white privilege. We wondered for a while how we were to craft a statement authentic to all of us. And then several meetings in, the phrase “among us” surfaced: among us are the descendants of colonizers; among us are the descendants of enslaved people. Here was a way to say who all we are, and to say things, authentically, together. To me, it was a most wondrous passage.
The Kairos Statement made its way from our group to the Session, who after discussion adopted it nearly word for word. I will always remember Kim Sydnor advocating for adding specific next steps to the statement: we need to say the things we are going to DO, implored Kim.
While the statement does not include specific actions, it is serving as a lens for efforts going forward. It seems, for example, to have focussed and energized the work around repurposing the church lot at Brook and Walton.
And - as the Kairos team and as the Session and as a congregation - we are watching and processing NEXT Church’s multi-part anti-racism webinars. Shani McIlwain is facilitating the webinar discussion in Session for four months’ worth of meetings. Most recently she showed us a video in which Bettina Love contrasts being a white ally and a white co-conspirator (Carla referenced this in last Sunday’s sermon).
Dr. Love tells a story of Bree Newsome, who climbed the statehouse flagpole in Columbia SC a few days after the killings in Emanuel AME Church. Newsome was able to take down the Confederate flag that flew over the state capitol, but it was not the spontaneous act it might have seemed. She had allies - planners, climbing trainers, bail money raisers - and she had at least one white co-conspirator. James Tyson stood next to the flagpole, and when the police showed up with a plan to tase the pole to which Newsome clung - Tyson reached out and put his hands on the pole. “That white man at that moment understood why he was there,” Dr. Love says. “He knew the police would not tase that pole with a healthy white man right there. He saved (Bree’s) life.”
Put your hands on the pole. After the video, Doug Brown, who has likely used his hands for our church as much as anyone in the past year, shared his hope that we’d move closer to the pole, and look for the opportunity to put our own hands on it. I think Kim Sydnor would agree.