Moving Beyond Good Intentions

Earlier this month, the Bishop James Theodore Holly Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians hosted the organization’s Northeast Regional Conference in Niagara Falls. The weekend event, which included Episcopalians from across the region, will benefit the Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania for years to come, its organizers say.

“We wanted a proactive sort of thing,” said Justice Rose Sconiers, a member of St. Philip’s, Buffalo, who was dean of the conference. Sconiers, who is also first vice chair of the Diocese of Western New York’s Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination, says the conversations begun at the conference will help shape the action plan of the commission, which is chaired by the Rev. Matthew Lincoln.

Building on Becoming Beloved Community, the Episcopal Church’s vision document on racial reconciliation, Sconiers and her fellow conference leaders organized roundtable discussions on four themes that form the quadrants of the Becoming Beloved Community labyrinth:  telling the truth, repairing the breach, proclaiming the dream, and practicing the way of love.

To begin, participants told personal stories and reflected with their table groups on what they had heard from each other. “We asked, ‘So what does this tell you about church and race, about how are we broken?’” said Sconiers. The answers will be part of a report designed for parishes in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania that want to begin discussions about racial reconciliation.

Susan Woods, a member of the commission and warden of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Buffalo, said the conference sessions were focused on generating practical ideas. “We were looking for action ideas for what we can do in our parishes to repair the breach,” she said. “How can we build greater trust so that we can really have authentic confidence in our intentions? How can we build trust and integrity in our commitment to racial healing?”

Woods emphasizes that racial healing both addresses individual prejudice and confronts the church’s role in systemic racism.

“The legacy of slavery has created systems of inequity in our housing systems, wealth accumulation and criminal justice system,” she said. “We need to look at our ministries, at our charity, and be sure that those things address inequity and not just make inequity manageable. We have to do things to address the situations that make people rely on food pantries.”

Building relationships is key, said Woods, who hopes to see pilgrimages, study groups, parish partnerships and other programs that can “build trust in intentions of love.”

“We don’t want to stop at the good intentions level. This is more important than that,” she said. “We want to move beyond goodwill patronage to seeing each other as absolute authentic, capable children of God.”

Watch future issues of the newsletter for the full report from the UBE conference and more resources from the Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination.