Soup & Race

“Telling Our Stories” shifts for a moment – from individuals’ stories to one of our church: an account of eating and talking that took place last week. Granted, eating and talking are not unusual at GPPC, but for those in attendance this felt like a special event.  The recounting below relies greatly on Sally Molenkamp’s Fellowship & Connecting Team’s Report to the Session, with additional comments from some who were there.


Last Fall a group of members met, brought together by concern for racial inequities in this country.  As a first step, we decided to find an appropriate book to read and discuss as a group.  Informed by the Sunday School class on mass incarceration and prison ministry taught by Ashley Diaz Mejias, we chose The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.


I’m still thinking about the issues raised in the book. I can’t stop thinking about them! Can’t stop thinking about the many ways the color of my skin affects my walk through the world. Can’t stop thinking about the injustices inherent in our criminal “justice” system. – Anne Westrick


After several of us had started the book we began talking about opening the discussion up to a wider audience – to include the community.  An idea was born!


On Thursday night, Jan 15th (a date chosen near Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday) we hosted 64 people, 49% of which had never been to GPPC before.  The group was of mixed races, genders, ages and represented several different faith communities.

I went to the event not knowing what to expect. It was quite an evening – half Ginter Parkers and half from the community.  But we all ate and fellowshipped together and engaged in meaningful conversation. –Sherry McCormick



To put together this diverse group we contacted other churches in the area, posted invitations on Facebook and a web event site, and placed an amazing flyer designed by our Communications Team in various places around the neighborhood.   We started the evening with a soup/salad/bread/cookie dinner, our gift to our guests.


There was an unusual level of openness to dialogue and getting to know each other. The table conversations each had a unique thread based on the people at that table. – Eleanor Workman


Following casual talk around the table came a program superbly planned and led by Matthew Freeman  – along with a crew of 8 facilitators (one for each table).  Matthew began with questions about our ethnicity, our connection to GPPC, and – for fun – our NFL leanings; he provided hand-held devices that recorded our responses instantly and anonymously, allowing us to get an idea of the make-up of our group.  He also invited folks to share passages from the book that had been particularly meaningful to them.


P.S. Matthew was a rock star in his ability to allow for openness and involve every participant. – Eleanor


We then broke into our small table groups and, through our facilitator’s questions, shared our thoughts and stories both on the book and on life itself.


It was a wonderful opportunity to bridge what I do professionally with who I am personally.  I teach about prejudice and racism all the time, but I still don’t talk about race issues as much as I should in my everyday life.  And it was such a pleasure to discuss these issues with people over 21 who have an interesting array of life experiences. –Kristen Klaaren

Moving stories were shared at my table – first hand encounters of embedded racism in my own town, in the previous century and the present one. It felt weighty, but I was so grateful for our guests’ willingness to share. – Alfred Walker


We came together again as the large group, and various people shared thoughts from the small group discussions.  Carla offered all the opportunity to leave contact info in order to continue the conversation and then dismissed us with benediction.

In view of the comments (all positive) received at evening’s end, this event seemed a success.  The big question is where do we go from here?


From my students who give up on their way to a degree to those who cannot vote because of felony records, I pledge to try to be more aware, more vigilant, and more involved in confronting the evils and effects of Jim Crow. – Edward Dail


Joining in the discussion at GPPC gave me a wee bit of hope that we are not alone, that other groups–diverse like ours–might form across the country, and that together we’ll grow large enough so that when we ask for reforms, we’ll be heard.  – Anne Westrick


How did we connect?  We connected with the community, we connected with other committees, we connected with the many people in our church that helped with all the details and tasks required to pull it off, and we connected with our own heads and hearts as we thought about and talked about a very hard subject.


I’m encouraged that we are connected in this. –  A new friend from the community

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Does anything say “white male” more perfectly and ironically than a choral setting of the Magnificat? This question popped into my head as I was practicing for the Ginter Park Presbyterian Church Love

3601 Seminary Avenue, Richmond, VA 23227

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