Back in 2016, parishioners at St. Philip’s, Columbus, watched a live feed of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s address at the Trinity Institute, hosted by Trinity, Wall Street in New York City. The theme of the address was “Listening for a Change: Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice.”

In that talk, Presiding Bishop Curry offered several compelling thoughts about racial issues. He assured everyone that living these days requires courage – to strive to be good and remember the racial movement seeks justice, not victory. He encouraged everyone to learn and meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. In fact, Jesus is the best person in the history of humankind to whom we can turn for information and inspiration.

Presiding Bishop Curry referenced the many stories about Jesus and the disinherited. He also told a true, modern day story about the two neighbors and the chickens.

“A white woman and a black woman were next door neighbors. The white woman raised chickens in her backyard. And every day she would throw the chicken droppings across the fence into her neighbor’s yard. One day the white woman got very sick. So the black woman went to her neighbor’s with a gift of beautiful roses she had grown in her backyard garden.

‘How did you grow such wonderful flowers?’ asked the white woman. ‘By fertilizing my garden with the droppings from your backyard,’ explained the black woman.

The black woman had made a choice many years ago about responding to her neighbor’s ungracious daily behavior. She could have gotten angry with the white woman. Instead, she responded with love.”

The Sacred Conversations group at St. Philip’s was started to live into his message. Compelled by the Presiding Bishop’s message, parishioners Pamela Burton and Yvonne Craft reached out to members of St. Stephen’s, Columbus. The churches began by reading and discussing the books, Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

St. Mark’s, Columbus, rector, the Rev. Dr. Paul St. Germain, was thinking that St. Mark’s, too, needed to be involved in racial justice and reconciliation work, and asked parishioner Nadya Richardson to spearhead the effort. St. Philip’s rector, the Rev. Charles Wilson, reached out to St. Mark’s to join the group, which now also includes St. John’s, Worthington, and the First Unitarian Universalist Church, represented by the Rev. Kathleen Fowler.

Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice has an organic approach to its monthly meetings, using a shared leadership model and a discussion topic planned for each meeting. Conversations often flow outside the specific topic and are encouraged. Venues are rotated to experience each other more fully. Past meetings have screened both the documentary 13th and the film, I Am Not Your Negro.

The group’s most recent gathering in August attracted 41 attendees for a presentation by Professor Joan Ferrante from Northern Kentucky University. According to Dr. Ferrante, the expected outcome of her documentary Mourning the Creation of Racial Categories is to “create art and language that will move audiences to mourn, then to change people’s assumptions about who we are. We believe changing assumptions is the first step toward transforming the way we perceive race and go about interacting with different race-labeled peoples. This transformation prepares us to work through the real problems that are the legacy of racial categories.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. created a vision of the Beloved Community, as one not without conflict, but where conflicts end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill. How has the Sacred Conversations group grown toward this vision? Members have said that stories too painful to tell at first are now shared comfortably because of the deep relationships that have taken root. Another member shared that by looking deeper into ingrained or learned, but unaware, categorizing of other people allows them to combat biases. Other comments include that this group, while tackling difficult topics, is a supportive place where we come together in mutual respect to share, learn and grow. By growing together in community, we receive the strength and courage needed to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Submitted by Nadya Richardson, Jim Keyes and Dot Yeager, parishioners of St. Mark’s, Columbus.