The Northwest Regional Meeting: Creating a brave space.
That was the goal of the January 20th Saturday workshop, “Come to the Table. . . .. for Conversations on Race,” sponsored by the Northwest Region of the Presbytery on January 20th.
Over 42 people from across the Presbytery gathered at Church of the Mall to be led in conversation by Rusty Vaughan and Jane Carrigan of the organization “Coming to the Table.” They helped us to create “brave spaces” — respectful spaces where people would speak honestly and listen deeply, even at the risk of discomfort. We began Friday night, when Jane and Rusty trained fourteen volunteers from the Presbytery in facilitation skills. We went over guidelines/touchstones for discussions. We learned the value of going around the circle by passing a “talking stick,” giving every person the opportunity to share their thoughts. We learned about the importance of confidentiality, sharing from personal experience and avoiding “debates.” We practiced honest speaking and deep listening among us, and left excited about the workshop the next day.
On Saturday morning we began with song, scripture and prayer. Then Rusty and Jane shared their experiences: Rusty as a white man who spent most of his life thinking he had nothing to learn about race/racism; and Jane, who grew up in a Cape Verdean community in Massachusetts, hearing mixed and complex messages about race. Their honest and moving stories were the springboard for our morning small group discussions. In the afternoon we examined questions like “How would you feel if your church put up a “Black Lives Matter” banner?” or “What is the cost to being African American in this country?” The circles became brave spaces, spaces of learning, connection and occasionally laughter. In between discussions, we relaxed over lunch and enjoyed fellowship.
What next? Jane and Rusty emphasized that the mission of Coming to the Table is not simply to talk. It’s to help people uncover history, make connections, and take actions to heal the wounds of racial inequality and injustice. But conversation is a place to begin, a place to practice honesty, truthfulness and transparency as we work for the peaceful transformation of society. The NW region would like to support churches (or groups of churches) in beginning “Coming to the Table” groups of their own! Rusty and Jane are ready to help with resources and consultations. Please contact Cheryl Pyrch at [email protected] if you would like to learn more about starting a group in your church.
Thank you to the Presbytery for the Peacemaking Grant that made this day possible. Thank you to Church of the Mall for their gracious hospitality. Thank you to the facilitators who came for training, and thank you and to all who attended on Saturday, not sure what to expect. We were blessed, and we pray that we may be a blessing to others as we continue courageous conversations and work for justice and healing.