Racism. It’s a word many do not seek to learn more about. Whether it is how a person was raised, cultural influences or simply not having resources to properly ask the tough questions, these necessary conversations are not always a top priority for clergy and congregations.
Three days of the busy September calendar in the Alabama-West Florida Conference were dedicated to training hundreds of clergy about this sensitive topic. Rev. Michelle Ledder was asked to lead the training called, “Resisting Racism: A Required Diversity Training for AWF Clergy.” Ledder is the General Commission on Race and Religion (GCORR) Director of Diversity and Anti-racism.
Ledder brought energy, enthusiasm and extensive knowledge to the room. Her online profile states, “She works to help all levels of the connection create the beloved community with systems, policies, and processes that level the playing field for everyone.” According to many attendees, she did just that.
“I am grateful for my day apart with fellow clergy,” stated Dr. Cory Smith of Auburn United Methodist Church. “Rev. Ledder delivered a helpful approach to allow me to better understand my personal implicit biases that we all have. She also equipped me with tools to have helpful and heartfelt race conversations in my congregation. I am thankful to serve a church that welcomes the difficult topics and seeks to be better members, citizens, neighbors and friends.”
These tools included videos that better explained racism and a thorough handout for pastors to use in their congregation, as Smith referenced. For some churches, these conversations will be unlike any they have ever had, for others, it will be a continuation of ongoing efforts. Ledder addressed that by saying, “There is a contextual wisdom that you bring in this space that I cannot bring.”
She also discouraged the use of phrases such as, “I didn’t mean that” or using “but” and “because” to explain one’s self. “Say I’m sorry. No but and, etc. Never expect grace from someone we’ve harmed,” she continued. Ledder explained that oftentimes we are asking people of color to tell their story in an uninvited way, which inflicts more pain.
“I am glad that we are taking the first steps to address the issue of racism in our annual conference,” stated Celeste Eubanks, Deaconess and AWF Director of Leadership Strategies. “I am aware some came into these days thinking it was another requirement to check off of their list, but I was encouraged to see a number of clergy genuinely interested in this topic of resisting racism. We will always have room for improvement, especially being in the deep south. I am grateful to Bishop Graves for acknowledging this issue and making this training a priority. My hope is that this is just the beginning of strategically understanding how hurtful generations of deeply rooted racism extends.”
Rev. Ledder explored in detail three big ideas:
1. Implicit Bias=Thought Shortcuts sometimes infected with stereotypes, Isms, or Fear;
2. Resisting Racism requires shifts;
3. Intercultural Competency.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference is continuing this conversation with the laity. As a start, three Vital Conversation Sessions are scheduled in October to continue this work. The facilitated discussion will focus on race, culture and justice. Click here to learn more.
Click here to see photos by Luke Lucas