Representatives from seven dioceses gathered at Bellwether Farm in early April to learn from each other and The Episcopal Church staff as we all live into the “Becoming Beloved Community” framework that seeks to help us heal our brokenness and become more whole while living in a fractured and polarized world. Becoming Beloved Community uses the labyrinth as an icon, in which the four quadrants are: Proclaiming the Dream, Telling the Truth, Repairing the Breach, and Practicing the Way. As we walk a labyrinth, the path where we enter almost immediately pulls into a different place. As an example, we may decide we are most comfortable proclaiming our dream for a more whole and holy society, but will get pulled into telling the truth about where we have been and where we are, which may be profoundly uncomfortable. (More information and resources are at episcopalchurch.org/beloved-community
Our conversations were led by Heidi Kim, Staff Officer for Racial Reconciliation and keynoter at the 2018 Winter Convocation, and Chuck Wynder, Staff Officer for Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement and keynoter at the 2018 Clergy Conference. We looked at Becoming Beloved Community from several angles. Some of the provocative questions posed for our conversation were:
- How much do we focus on “looking diverse” without a willingness to change?
- How does The Episcopal Church’s narrative of inclusion blind us to the ways in which we aren’t?
- How do we live in the borderlands between seeking justice and seeking reconciliation?
- In what ways do our intentions differ from the actual effects of our actions?
- In what ways is our behavior at odds with the identity we claim for ourselves as parishes, as a diocese, and as Christians?
- Are we willing to learn and tell the history of the relationship?
Dioceses and settings ranged from Northern Michigan (the Upper Peninsula), which is focused largely on the work of reconciliation with Native Americans, to Chicago, a large, mostly urban diocese. One of the areas we identified as a possible lens for Becoming Beloved Community is the social and economic story that we share as “rust belt” dioceses. What truth do we tell about that identity and history? What is our dream? What damage needs to be repaired? (Environmental damage, for example.)
We were reminded of the terminology used by Dr. Catherine Meeks, the director of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing, who suggests that we trade “safe spaces” for “brave spaces” – the latter requiring us to be vulnerable about our fears of offending or our fears of learning that we aren’t who we think we are. At the same time, we were reminded that none of us want to be known by the worst thing we’ve ever done, and that can help us connect with others from a place of grace. As we learn with our families and friends, right relationship is more important than being right, and being brave in our relationships is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. We were reminded that this work requires discernment, individually and in community, to identify what support we need and what gifts we have to offer one another.
We spent some time in diocesan groupings and the Diocese of Ohio talked about how we can experiment and model using this framework at the staff level and with Diocesan Council. The gathering as a whole spent time talking about how we can carry this work forward as a learning community, sharing our practices and struggles so as to stay spiritually grounded, to be accountable so that we focus on what’s truly important, and to be an example to the wider church. The work is to be practical, to be sure, but it is more aptly understood as a way of practicing Christian love, of deciding to take risks in our life as the Church and as baptized people of God.