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1001 New Worshiping Community’s anti-racism training making impact in Kansas City

Grants help The Open Table KC create and grow multiracial church

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Open Table KC gathers for dinner and conversation around social issues twice each month. (Photo by Nick Pickrell)

LOUISVILLE — When leader Nick Pickrell heard that The Open Table KC would receive a $25,000 1001 New Worshiping Community growth grant from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, he was like, “What? What!”

For the first time — The Open Table KC received two previous grants to help start and make progress in the desire to create a multiracial church — there wasn’t a significant amount of questions, or feedback they had to give.

“Honestly, all of this feels surreal,” says Pickrell. “There were eight of us who wanted to create a church we wish we’d had growing up. We wanted a church that was concerned for people living under any form of oppression.”

Four years later, 25-30 percent of those at Open Table are people of color and the community is growing in spiritual formation, discipleship and social justice.

According to its website, The Open Table KC is “a community of inclusion, rooted in a Christian tradition of mysticism and liberation. We believe God breaks all chains, boundaries and categories, and we invite others to share in the freedom and challenges that come with this belief. In a world defined by division, we align ourselves with the marginalized and oppressed.”

In 2017, the organization used a $50,000 development grant from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity   to train 10 people of color and 10 white people — with a variety of religious and racial backgrounds — to lead antiracism trainings for a variety of Kansas City organizations.

The Open Table was the only church invited to participate in Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ Race and Equity public conversations and training events in 2018. Pickrell will be one of the panelists at a citywide race conversation event on Jan. 16.

“We’re helping people recognize the need for a common definition of racism,” Pickrell said. “And how to recognize it in their institutions and systems — and how to dismantle it.”

After training one of Kansas City’s downtown restaurants, Pickrell received a call from the owner who’d been concerned that white servers were quick to call police if they saw a person of color walking around outside his restaurant.

One server had approached him about a person of color with apparent mental health issues talking to himself and pacing up and down the sidewalk.

“What should I do,” the server wondered, “if white customers want to call police on this person, who’s doing nothing wrong?”

“This staff person wanted to let the white customers know that this person is OK to be where they are,” Pickrell said. “Even if he was speaking to himself, doesn’t mean he should disappear.”

Stories like these leave Pickrell proud, but humbled. Increasingly he recognizes how racism affects everyone.

“We’ve all been socialized into racism since we were born,” he says. “Racism isn’t just about black or white. White supremacy affects everyone.”

Recently, The Open Table KC received a $30,000 Paragon Grant from the Synod of Mid-America to develop transformational and experiential discipleship curriculum in 2019.

Based on studies Pickrell has done on the Gandhian movement, the curriculum will include practicing habits for self-transformation to create capacity for a person to love God, self, friend and enemy —and some self-interrogation around the impact of the various “isms.”

“So that we are not unwittingly perpetuating and recreating unjust systems,” says Pickrell.

There will be opportunities for direct service work based on Matthew 25.

“… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcome me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  Matthew 25: 34-36 (English Standard Version)

As the discipleship curriculum work begins, The Open Table KC is hosting, coaching and training two 1001 New Worshiping Community residents in 2018-19, thanks to a partnership between PMA and Heartland Presbytery. They’ll be an incubator of sorts for new leaders to plant their own worshiping communities throughout the presbytery.

All white when it began, The Open Table KC now has a diverse 15-person leadership team.  It includes people of color and LGBTQ+ members, with a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

“This leadership team is empowered to lead and drive our culture, ensuring that we create a community that is actually inclusive,” says Pickrell.

Twice a month, The Open Table KC gathers in the Fellowship Hall at Second Presbyterian Church for dinner and conversation around social issues. At one of their antiracism gatherings 170 people came.

The Open Table’s anti-racism training campaign is helping a variety of Kansas City organizations recognize racism in their institutions and systems — and how to dismantle it. (Photo by Nick Pickrell)

“We can’t call ourselves a community of peace and reconciliation in a city divided, without addressing America’s original sin of racism,” says Pickrell.

“We care very much about the political, social and economic nature of Jesus — which led him to speak in parables and organize people like the tax collectors to work for the liberation of the oppressed in his day.”

“We’re interested in questions like, ‘Why did Jesus die? Why was he executed by the state?’”

“Religious and nonreligious folks identify with the work we’re doing and are now participating in doing good for the community.”

While Pickrell primarily focuses on running Open Table and community organizing,  co-leader Wendi Brackhaus works on spiritual development. She is a member of the 2019 1001-Vital Congregations national conference which will be held in Kansas City October 13-17. Watch for registration information coming soon.

Mission Program Grants are made available through the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. These grants support new worshiping communities’ and mid councils’ work to transform existing churches.  In the October/November Grant cycle, 41 new worshiping communities received grants.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that resulted in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities over the next 10 years. At a grassroots level, hundreds of diverse new worshiping communities have already formed across the nation.


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