In the same way that the movement for racial justice cannot be separated from faith commitments to do justice and love our neighbors, so too, antiracism is part of the interweaving of our worship, our activism, and our faith formation. How do we cultivate the mutually-informing dynamic interplay between these different aspects of our life in community?
Invited by its pastoral team to honor Black History | Black Futures month each Sunday of February 2020, the congregation of Danville (CA) Congregational Church UCC centered its worship life and its youth formation around the voices of African-Americans and interrogated whose voices they and their families centered through literature, music, and art. The intentional practice of diversifying the voices we listen to in worship not only deepened the worship experience, but also connected it in tangible ways to our daily lives, showing us how antiracism is a sacramental practice. We also recognized that this effort to center and experience often marginalized voices needed to be a part of our life in the community throughout the year, not just in February.
Fueled by this experience, and in the wake of the horrifying murder of George Floyd three months later, a group of members organized to form an Anti-Racism Team. This team sought ways to provide space for members to discuss and explore issues related to white supremacy and assess the congregation’s stance on racism in light of its mission to “love each other, love God, and be God’s love to the world.” What they discovered was that people needed space for conversation around the complicated topic of white privilege; opportunities where voices of African-American people were centered; and deep introspection regarding how and where the church should show up as an expression of its commitment to justice. These discoveries led the team to pursue opportunities for each aspect of formation that they identified to become a part of the spiritual offerings of the community, offering a holistic approach to this work of racial justice.
In 2021, the congregation journeyed through the season of Lent framed as “White Supremacy and the Way of Suffering,” considering the suffering of Jesus through the lens of the suffering of African-American people. Sermons and worship space, as well as shared spiritual practices, supported the difficult but transformative introspection. Then, just days before being named the “Safest City in California,” Tyrell Wilson, a homeless African-American man, was shot by a Danville police officer. Heartbroken, some thirty members of the congregation showed up on Palm Sunday with members of the Danville community to march for justice on behalf of Tyrell and alongside his family. Since then, the church has remained engaged in the work of racial justice by showing up and speaking out in the community while many have continued the deep spiritual work of interrogating their role in white supremacy and pivoting from it into meaningful ways that lead to their own transformation and expression of their faith.
The journey of cultivating antiracist practices holistically throughout the life of the church has been demanding, and not without grief; yet the congregation has not turned away from this path. Led by its lay leaders and members and supported by their pastors, we understand that we are not there yet, and perhaps will always be on the journey of becoming antiracist. Yet, we realize more and more, in thought and in deed, the importance of taking a stand, in this generation, regarding the most crucial issues of equity and justice in our faith and our world.
– Rev. Todd Atkins-Whitley, Danville Congregational Church UCC, Danville CA
Creator of infinite variety, we are grateful for the differences that exist within our interconnectedness. And we recognize that too often, fear turns difference into danger. Touch every aspect of our lives with curiosity and care, so that we may discover how we are called to be changed by and accountable to others. Make our lives a song of praise for the amazing beauty of your diverse creation. Amen.
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