Bearing Witness to Our Becoming

Bearing witness is an important act in growth and transformation, particularly on the community level. It requires us to pay attention to each other and reflect one’s growth back, ushering in the new growth that is emerging. In doing so, that growth is integrated and takes root—for the individual and for the community.  Having now spent a year in the role of Becoming Beloved Community Coordinator, I want to take a moment to bear witness to our efforts to Become Beloved Community. Given the recent diocesan-wide focus around Repairing the Breach—both in our engagement with Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey and just this past weekend with Convention—I want to call particular attention to our work around repairing the breach and reparations.

Historically, the focus of racial and social justice has been on action. In that context, action is understood as in opposition to reflection, contemplation, inner work. Clearly, this approach has not been sufficient in bringing forth the beloved community we seek in our world. So, those who have been gathering together in this shared call to become beloved community have carefully held the tension of the urgency to act with the understanding of the need to turn inward, to find God within ourselves.

We began with Truth-Telling, carefully exploring the role we have played in perpetuating and responding to racism and White Supremacy, as individuals, congregations, institutions. This takes time as truth-telling is a process, one truth uncovering another—our truths bound up in one another’s. This process has been painful and healing; people regularly speaking to the experiences as “holy” and “sacred”. With hearts breaking open, there’s been a growing desire for responsive action with the understanding that we must move beyond truth-telling to repairing the breach.

Reparations is generally understood as a reallocation of resources on institutional and systemic levels. In fact, the guiding questions offered by The Episcopal Church to frame “Repairing the Breach” reflect and reinforce this understanding:

  • What social institutions and systems most clearly bear the signs of racial injustice and brokenness?
  • How could we participate in the repair, restoration, and healing of people, institutions, and systems?

And yet, in our Becoming Beloved Community efforts, I am bearing witness to a nuanced form of repair—one that is generated by restoring the breach within. Those who are deeply engaging in the work of Becoming Beloved Community are giving testament to the power that is experienced in repairing the breach between our self and God caused by structures of domination that exist both internally and externally.

For example, during Convention, I facilitated a panel of leaders who shared their experiences on the front-lines of repair work including Rev. Cameron O’Riley (St. Patrick’s, Dublin), Rev. Rick Incorvati (Christ Church, Springfield), MaryBeth Ingram (St. Matthew’s, Westerville), and Rev. Maggie Foote (Iglesia del Espiritu Santo; Forest Park). These leaders were invited to speak based on their extensive work in their communities around repair and justice. Yet, the repair that was elevated in their storysharing was a deeper, spiritual repair. As they spoke, it was clear that their spiritual repair generated transformative power, a power-with rather than a power-over, and this shift translated into how they approached their justice work. As Rev. Maggie Foote shared, she has come to see her position as one of “guest” rather than one of “host”; Rev. Rick Incorvati challenged that changing policies isn’t enough, that we must also change hearts and minds; MaryBeth Ingram spoke of the importance in examining internalized Whiteness and the harm that comes when it goes unexamined; Cameron O’Riley spoke of the need to get out of our own way and let the Holy Spirit move through us.

Becoming Beloved Community is more than a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. It is more than racial and social justice. We are being called, as followers of Jesus, into spiritual transformation for the sake of our whole world. And this is what I’m witnessing all around me. People who are saying yes to this invitation—myself included–are being spiritually transformed and that process of transformation is rippling out into our relationships, neighborhoods, and communities in sustaining ways.

This witnessing feels important as we continue to explore the meaning of repairing the breach and reparations and how we might do this. During Convention, Bishop Breidenthal shared the intention of launching an effort around reparations and there is growing energy around this. As we continue to move this energy forward, let us also pay attention to what is happening among us and what we are learning along our journey.

Repairing the breach and reparations calls for both an investment in the trust of God and Oneness and trust in our institutions and systems. We must continue to hold the tension of the urgency to act and the need to be still, together so that we can be present to the Holy Spirit. Doing so restores the always-already interconnectedness that weaves us together even as we are pulled apart by social and internal structures, causing us to suffer forget who we are.

The past few months I’ve witnessed a collective re-membering. This remembering feels holy, sacred. I’ve even heard more than once, “This feels like church.” And it is. After all, we are  becoming beloved community.