Sacred Ground’s Next Chapter
By Valerie Mayo and Katrina Browne
Speaking of the ongoing subjugation of Black bodies post-Emancipation, W.E.B. Du Bois remarked in his 1903 classic The Souls of Black Folk, “In vain do we cry this our vastest social problem …. The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found freedom in his promised land.”
More than 100 years later, we as a collective have yet to learn to embrace, explore, and celebrate the richness of our diverse cultural landscape, living into our ideals of freedom, acceptance, and justice.
In its first chapter, Sacred Ground (SG), a film-based dialogue series on race and faith, was primarily geared toward engaging European-American Episcopalians in “White work.” The goal was to respond to calls from Episcopalians of color for White people to educate themselves and each other about the story of race in America, rather than perpetually leaning on People of Color to be the teachers/chaplains.
Many Episcopalians congregations are all-White or overwhelmingly White, and too many think that means they can’t proceed with race dialogue. We wanted to encourage them to enter the ongoing journey toward racial healing, reconciliation and justice symbolized by the Becoming Beloved Community (BBC) labyrinth. Meanwhile, because we knew some congregations with People of Color would also wish to participate, we remained curious about the value of SG in interracial circles.
Supported by a Becoming Beloved Community grant, the Union of Black Episcopalians, with the leadership of its president, The Very Rev. Kim Coleman, partnered with Sacred Ground to ascertain best practices for Indigenous, Black, Latino and Asian American participants. We embarked on a learning process looking at both White Work Circles (WWCs) and Interracial Circles (IRCs) via interviews, and via focus groups and surveys in collaboration with Indígena Consulting.
The result of that extensive process is the Sacred Ground Evaluation Report, now available at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/sacred-ground/. One of our most important conclusions: Sacred Ground absolutely has value for Episcopalians of color. For instance, People of Color and White people reported similar experiences of transformation via Sacred Ground:
- 94% of both White people and People of Color indicated Sacred Ground taught them history they didn’t know.
- 84% of White people and 80% of People of Color said Sacred Ground “increased [their] emotional capacity for this kind of dialogue and reparative work.”
- Sacred Ground helped 79% of People of Color and 89% of White people to “shift [their] awareness beyond Black/White issues” (to other communities of color).
- 80% of People of Color and 86% of White people said Sacred Ground “increased [their] motivation to take action towards racial justice.”
The results match with what we have discovered in our partnership around the evaluation process, where we have experienced firsthand the importance of cross-racial relationship. When we would find ourselves out of synch in our work together, it took courage to speak up about a dynamic, and to release assumptions so we could hear each other, especially in light of White privilege and blinders. We have learned again how trust is built on hard work.
It is gratifying to see that Sacred Ground can be transformative for White people and People of Color. We encourage intentional discernment about whether the Holy Spirit is calling your congregation to form White Work Circles, Interracial Circles or both. If you are holding White Work Circles, it’s important to enter into accountable relationships with People of Color as you move from reflection to action (see the new Sessions 10 & 11, designed to help with that movement).
Whatever the shape and makeup of your groups, they will be an opportunity to do something new, to learn and grow together, and to wrestle with the harsh realities of our past and our present. In the process, we can become more intentional in freeing ourselves from our bondage of ignorance and avoidance and ultimately change our future.
Photo: The Rev. Valerie J. Mayo with parishioners from St. George’s and the Diocese of Kentucky
The Rev. Valerie J. Mayo serves in the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky as the diocesan urban missioner, University of Louisville Episcopal Lutheran campus chaplain and priest-in-charge of St. George’s Episcopal Church. She served as a consultant for the Union of Black Episcopalians in its partnership with Sacred Ground.
Katrina Browne developed the Sacred Ground curriculum in the context of her work as a consultant for Becoming Beloved Community initiatives in The Episcopal Church.