Network innovated by Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries works to disrupt patterns in church systems
by Shani E. McIlwain | Presbyterian News Service
The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (RE&WIM), has been doing the work of dismantling oppressive systems for more than two decades.
In their work they found that this requires white people teaching and facilitating white people. The hard conversations and unfiltered truths that come from fully embodying this work is often a lighter burden when white people are doing this self-work together without the emotional labor of people of color.
Leonard’s discovery helped lead the RE&WIM team to form the White Ally Network — a working title — which met last week for the first time in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nine colleagues from across the denomination gathered under the overarching theme of “radical welcome” to begin the work of becoming facilitators. “Radical welcome” is defined as the spiritual practice of embracing and being changed by the gifts, presence, voices and power of The Other — the people systemically cast out of or marginalized within a church, a denomination and/or society.
Led by RE&WIM team members Samantha Davis, associate for gender and racial justice, and administrative assistant Mikyle Johnson, Leonard’s vision is finally coming to fruition. “When creating this network,” says Leonard, “Samantha and I were clear that some will only hear this message as truth and the work of the church if it comes from white voices they know and can identify with. I am so glad to have pastors, elders, pew members, mid council leaders, retirees, and even national staff all a part of this great work.”
As more such workshops and facilitator trainings are still being scheduled throughout the country, the hope for the White Ally Network is that the people who have deemed it important enough to be a part of it will be dispatched into various parts of the PC(USA) to challenge systems, practices and culture that promote and sustain white supremacy culture.
“I further hope that this work will challenge some and disrupt patterns within our church that we do not even realize and/or acknowledge are there,” says Leonard. “
And finally, I hope this network will continue to multiply, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, in a way that truly embodies what faith, justice and allyship look like in action. We have plans for the next phase of the work. But for now, we are focused on building something sustainable, communal, effective, and transformative.”
For more information on RE&WIM or on becoming part of this initiative, go to RE&WIM’s website here.
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