The Process of Sowing Seeds: Reflections From Springfield

Springfield recently concluded their community-wide program, “Becoming Beloved Community: A Six-Part Series on the Challenge of Racial Division in Springfield”. Regular attendance was estimated at ninety-five people, from various walks of life.

As Rev. Rick Incorvati of Christ Episcopal Church reflected on the experience–from planning to implementation, he shared the importance of process as way to practice Becoming Beloved Community and the importance of sowing seeds.

Plans for the series began with a conversation at Christ Episcopal Church about ways our congregation might live into the Becoming Beloved Community commitment. In those first deliberations, there was interest around using Springfield’s well-documented history of racial tension to help the members of Christ Church, a predominantly white congregation, better understand the the racial dynamics that have shaped our community and that have consequently had a shaping influence on those of us who call this city our home.

As the series developed around Springfield’s history, planners learned of friends in neighboring congregations who were interested in participating. There are now nine congregations, eight of them predominantly white, who are involved in the planning (Central Christian Church, Christ Episcopal Church, Covenant United Methodist Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, First Baptist Church, First Lutheran Church, High St. United Methodist Church, Northminster Presbyterian Church, and St. Raphael/St. Joseph Catholic Church). To reflect the interdenominational commitment, the event took place not at Christ Church but at the Central Community Center, a facility in the heart of Springfield’s downtown.

The six sessions in this series approached the problem of racial identity and racism through various lenses. A social-psychological approach introduced the participants to implicit bias, demographic patterns in the community, and the patterns of structural racism; a theological perspective invited attendees to consider how power relations and oppression become factors in our efforts to be good neighbors; and a historical consideration informed the group about the record of lynching, riots, and segregation, and the ways that current divisions in the community are informed by this record of violence and oppression.

The week-by-week schedule for the series was as follows:

  • Sunday, June 30th, 4pm: Preshusslee Thompson from Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity presented on the workings of implicit bias, structural racism, and the ways that racism informs patterns of interaction within a community.
  • Sunday, July 7th, 4pm: Rev. Sunder John Boopalan, author of Memory, Grief, and Agency: A Political Theological Account of Wrongs and Rites, shared his reflections on the ways historical injustices reverberate in present-day practices, practices which he calls “rituals of humiliation.” Recognition of these patterns and an emotional investment in historical wrongs, he argues, are dimensions of a healthy spiritual formation.
  • Sunday, July 14th, 4pm: Darnell Carter, a retired county prosecutor and author of the master’s thesis “The 1904, 1906, and 1921 Race Riots in Springfield, Ohio,” spoke about Springfield’s era of lynching (1904) and rioting (1906 and 1921), and he also shared striking information about the origins and the influence of the Ku Klux Klan in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Sunday, July 21st, 4pm: Darnell Carter returned to speak on the segregation that took shape between 1930 and 1965, with an emphasis on the murder of Ralph Stinnett, an 18-year-old African-American man, in 1965 and the role this case played in strengthening Springfield’s northside/southside division.
  • Sunday, July 28th, 4pm: A panel of community members, assembled in coordination with the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, reflected on the experience of racial division from the 1960s to today.
  • Sunday, August 4th, 4pm: Social change coach/consultant Cherie Bridges Patrick reflected on the series and provided ways considering the social positioning that we all bring to our engagements within and across racial divisions. She also provided considerations as participants reflected on steps they wanted to take for ongoing formation following the series.

The purpose of this speaker series was to provide the Christ Church congregation and the broader community with rewarding and durable ways to understand one’s own racial identities and the dynamics of racism that shape one’s thinking and behavior. This activity also aimed to connect this learning to a commitment to individual spiritual formation within a Christian tradition that holds neighborly love as a central commandment. The most ambitious aim is to lay the foundation for better engagements across divisions in the community and to encourage intentional collaboration after the series concludes. 

There is energy growing it seems…more to come on that!

In the meantime, view recordings of each part of the series on Springfield’s Becoming Beloved Community Facebook page, here.