“People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all of their
solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy;
but it is clear that we must hold to what is the difficult.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta held to the difficult for the past six years as a small group of faithful folks met every other month to imagine the way forward for the challenging work of dismantling racism in the Diocese. Prior to the installation of a new Bishop and a new Chair of the Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism; the group was known as the Anti-Racism Commission whose major contribution was hosting the training mandated for persons who were seeking to be ordained or serve as leaders in the Diocese.
Renaming the Commission, reimagining the required training and instituting the celebration of Holy Communion at the beginning of each session helped to support the process of creating a new framework for the training. The new approach addressed training as spiritual formation and stressed the fact that dismantling racism work is a life time enterprise. Every person of faith should be aware that the spiritual formation journey does not end until one has departed this island home for the next rendition of life beyond the veil. Therefore, dismantling racism has to be done for as long as one lives or until racism is totally dismantled. At the present moment it appears that death will come for most of us before racism dies.
Our small group of ten grew to twenty over the course of the six years and in the fourth year, we had the great blessing of being able to add three of the fine young persons who were serving as Road Fellows. Their energy and insights were a very welcome breath of fresh air. They were eager to roll up their sleeves and hit the road running with whatever tasks we assigned them. But they were even more outstanding when allowed to take on projects that they designed and to be left alone to do the work in their way with a little guidance from those of us who were no longer young.
The Commission began a very intentional course of working to create more visibility. The efforts were supported by the members of the Presiding Bishops Staff who were also charged with working for racial healing and reconciliation. They shared our work across the wider church which led us to be deemed as a good example of a best practice for dismantling racism. This resulted in many folks seeking us out to offer counsel, assistance and sometimes just a kind listening ear. The scope of the work that was being done made the Commission soon became quite inadequate and one day Bishop Rob said, “ You all have outgrown being a Commission.” He was right though some of us had thought about it, that was the first time that it had been said aloud .
Following that conversation a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) was sent to Bishop Michael Curry to seek his counsel and support as we began to talk about the possibility of having a center and how it might be a resource for the wider church. We began the process of fundraising which was quite successful. We received amazing supportive affirmation from everyone with whom we spoke about the idea of a center for racial healing. After several months of conversation, Bishop Curry agreed to bring The Episcopal Church together with us to form a partnership and the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing became a reality.
In October of 2017, we cut the ribbon to the new Center with Bishops Michael and Rob along with Cape Coast, Ghana Bishop Atta Bafoe presiding over the day's service. It was an amazing moment that witnessed these three sons of Africa standing together to proclaim the dawning of a new day in this work. Along with them stood the daughters of Africa and the daughters of Europe confirming the commitment to do a new thing in the space known as the Absalom Jones Chapel.
The Chapel is located on the Atlanta Student Movement Boulevard which refers to the brave young people of yesteryear who lead the resistance to racism that led to the desegregation of downtown Atlanta and it is named after the patron saint of Episcopal resistance, Absalom Jones, the first person of African descent to be ordained in our denomination after many years of persistent resistance to the racism that tried to bar him from ordination. Thus the work will grow and become fruitful because it stands on the broad shoulders of many resistors whose sacrifice make it impossible for the Center to do anything but hold to the difficult and practice being a half shade braver on a daily basis.