On Sacred Ground: Becoming Beloved Community Across Different Kinds of Difference
By Lallie Lloyd
In an August webinar for facilitators, the Rev. Nora Boerner, the Rev. Canon Meg Wagner, and the Rev. David Ware joined a conversation about Sacred Ground as a place where people are meeting across different kinds of difference and learning skills for brave conversations in their wider communities.
Boerner and Wagner both serve in the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, where Boerner is associate rector at Trinity Church, Iowa City, and interim missioner for the diocesan Beloved Community Initiative, and Wagner is canon to the ordinary and was an early reader of the Sacred Ground curriculum.
Iowa is the sixth whitest state in the country, and, while taking pride in having been part of the Underground Railroad, Wagner said many Iowans aren’t alert to the fact that Iowa is a “predominantly White state by intention, because we stole it from the people of color who lived here—most recently the Sauk, Meskwaki, and Fox peoples.”
Boerner added, “Recent legislation, known as ‘divisive concept’ laws, make it not just hard, but actually illegal to do some of the work of telling the truth of our history in our public schools and in our public institutions…So, we have a unique perspective of dismantling racism among people who don’t know anyone of color or grew up not thinking that racism was a big deal.”
At the same time, Wagner pointed out, research says some of the factors that thriving small towns in Iowa have in common are “strong, diverse, and inclusive relationships. They’re more tolerant, have less income disparity, depersonalize politics, and communicate well about hard things.” She sees the work of Sacred Ground as essential to the sustainability of small rural communities in Iowa.
Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, where Ware serves as rector, is a large, predominantly White Episcopal congregation in Baltimore, a majority Black city. Racial violence has roiled the city’s civic life for decades. So, for the people at Redeemer, not engaging the issues of race in an active and focused way would be a profound disconnect from the city they love.
When asked if Sacred Ground is seen at Redeemer as being liberal or progressive, Ware said, “Before the word ‘woke’ became a dirty word, we talked a lot about waking up…about being conscious…about hearing and seeing things in a new way, and we’ve been held by the Spirit. I’ve not heard labels attached to the work we’ve gone through. I’ve heard more people say, ‘I’m interested in what other people are talking about, because it sounds like it’s had an impact on them.’”
Boerner added, “Everything we do [in the Diocese of Iowa] is centered around our call as Christians and our baptismal covenant…We meet people in love and show them that [dismantling racism] is our calling, regardless of politics.”
We asked what advice they have for Sacred Ground facilitators who are just getting started. Here’s some of what they shared:
- Trust the container that is Sacred Ground.
- Model listening to learn versus listening to speak.
- When you get triggered or stirred up, or you feel an uncomfortable impulse from deep inside, don’t talk yourself out of that feeling. Keep a journal if you can.
- Above all, welcome discomfort.
Boerner concluded, “Any of you who have been a part of a transformational time in your life, you know that’s a discomforting experience. You know real transformation requires giving up something of ourselves and allowing ourselves to be changed. So, I would welcome the discomfort. If that means you’re sitting in silence, and no one’s talking, how uncomfortable is that? But leaning into that discomfort is also opening yourself up to letting the Holy Spirit disrupt and stir things up in a good way.”
You can watch the full webinar here.
Lallie Lloyd is interim lead consultant for Sacred Ground. In 2012 she founded and led “All Our Children,” a network of faith-based community partnerships with under-resourced public schools.