“We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. …Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life. We commit as the Church to move beyond symbolic expressions and representative models that do not challenge unjust systems of power and access.”
In 2016, delegates to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference adopted a resolution requiring that NEJ conferences offer mandatory quadrennial anti-racism training for those serving local churches.
In New England, creating and conducting that training is the responsibility of the Conference Commission on Religion and Race (CCORR). The sessions are taking place now, and continue through Mid-March.
In a session held Feb. 11, 2023 in the Commonwealth West District, Facilitator and CCORR Chair Rev. Effie McAvoy said it’s important for people to understand why this training is needed, and it goes beyond the NEJ requirement.
“[We’re] trying to get members of the conference to understand that we all are affected by bias, prejudice, and discrimination,” said Rev. McAvoy, who serves Shepherd of the Valley UMC in Hope, RI. “It’s not a Black/White issue, it’s an ‘all-of-us issue,’ and how do we then engage in that and work to make justice happen?”
CCORR member Rev. Catharine Cummings, who serves Wesley UMC in Springfield, MA, was leading Saturday’s training session with Rev. McAvoy.
“My hope is that people will be more aware of what’s going on and how our racial identity and personal biases and prejudices affect how we interact in the world,” Rev. Cummings said.
Both she and Rev. McAvoy pointed to the death of Tyre Nichols as an illustration of systemic and internalized racism.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was beaten by Memphis (TN) police officers on Jan. 7, 2023 during a traffic stop. Nichols was hospitalized and died three days later. The five officers involved are also Black.
It’s important to understand, Rev. Cummings said, “that racism, internalized white supremacy affects all of us. We’re all living in the same fishbowl, we’re all drinking the same water.”
Of the incident involving Black police officers, Rev. McAvoy said, “Nobody in the Black community was surprised, we were disheartened. When you’re trained in an innately racist system, you implement that. We have to figure out how to change the systems to initiate justice.”
The training sessions are one day, but the working is ongoing.
Rev. Cummings said that she hopes those attending will “come away with a broader understanding and not be afraid to have this ‘courageous conversation.’”
Attend an upcoming session
Rev. McAvoy said CCORR has been “diligently working” during the last 18 months to build the training.
“We are working really hard on making [the training] collaborative. We want everyone to be able to bring something to these conversations so we can do the work together as the body of Christ,” she said.
The theme for this quadrennium is intersectionality, and Rev. McAvoy shared some of the books CCORR used to create the training:
Intersectional Theology by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw Intersectionality by Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge Introducing Intersectionality by Mary Romero
As stated, this training required for clergy and lay ministers serving on ministry teams and laity, especially those in leadership positions, are strongly encouraged to attend.