It looks like a strange kind of line dancing. In the middle of a church hall, a string of men and women silently hold hands. A woman from the side says, “If you’ve ever been told ‘you’re a credit to your race,'” take one step back.” Several people—Black and Aboriginal—drop back. The woman speaks again: “If your parents spoke English as their first language, take one step forward.” Several others inch ahead. The line is now jagged and people reach and bend to keep holding hands.
This is a “Race to the Wall” exercise—designed to get people thinking about their racial privilege. It’s just one part of an anti-racism training that General Synod has offered across the Anglican Church of Canada since 2004. Heading it up are two dynamic trainers: Esther Wesley, coordinator of the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation, and the Rev. Canon Maylanne Maybee, ecojustice coordinator.
So why is anti-racism the church’s work? “The church has been blind and in denial about racism for so long,” explained Ms. Wesley. “The church needs to accept the existence of racism and learn tools to combat it. The church needs to learn that racism is a sin against God’s creation.”
Ridding the church of this amorphous enemy is a long, gradual process. The hard work got rolling in 2001 when the Council of General Synod mandated an Anti-Racism Implementation Group (of volunteer Anglicans) to provide training for committees, councils, and boards of General Synod.
To plan their course, the group first drafted a Charter for Racial Justice. It envisioned a future church “where people will have the assurance that they will be treated with dignity and respect.”
The team then put together an interactive anti-racism training program, which included not only “Race to the Wall,” but a provocative video—Indecent Exposure—and time for people to share what’s happened in their communities and personal history.
Over the past five years, Ms. Wesley and Ms. Maybee have travelled across Canada to deliver this training program to much of the church leadership, including the Council of the North, many standing committees, and the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples.
Now, inspired by similar trainings in the Episcopal Church, they’re moving to a new, decentralized model, where they will train more trainers who can grow the program exponentially across the church.
In the meantime, Ms. Wesley and Ms. Maybee are encouraged that more requests keep pouring in. On Nov. 24, they will be in Winnipeg to train a group of more than 50—their biggest event ever.
This anti-racism work also continues cooperatively with the Canadian Ecumenical Anti-Racism Network (CEARN), which has produced several key resources for parishes and communities to learn about racial justice.
The most recent resource, Mamow Be-Mo-Tay-Tah: Let Us Walk Together [PDF order form] is a book of reflections from Indigenous Peoples, designed to help churches learn about Aboriginal history and engage with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools. The book can be ordered from Peter Noteboom, associate secretary for the commission on justice and peace, Canadian Council of Churches.
Ms. Wesley, who serves on CEARN’s steering committee, sees a big change in how Canadian churches are dealing with racism. “When we started, just to say the word ‘racism’ really got a lot of people defensive,” she said. “But now it’s become accepted as part of the language of the church. Now people are willing to be engaged in dialogue.”
The current Anti-Racism Implementation Group includes Richard Bruyere (Diocese of Keewatin), Peter Fenty (Diocese of Toronto), Dale Gillman (Diocese of Qu’Appelle), Yves-Eugene Joseph (Diocese of Montreal), and Bishop Jim Njegovan (Diocese of Brandon). Staff support includes Ms. Wesley and Ms. Maybee as well as Henriette Thompson, director of Partnerships, and Lydia Laku, program associate, Partnerships.
For more information on the trainings, anti-racism work, or to order a copy of the Charter for Racial Justice email Esther Wesley or the Rev. Canon Maylanne Maybee.
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