To Dos & To Don’ts: (Re)Centering Relationship in Antiracism Work
By Rev. Jeanne Kaliszewski and Michael Montgomery
When starting a new project, few things are more satisfying than checking things off a to-do list. When we were called by the bishop of Oregon to serve as co-conveners for the rebooted working group on racial justice, we met and set an agenda for our first meeting and began developing a lengthy to-do list.
The launch of our work occurred against the backdrop of fragile race relations in an extraordinarily divided country. A buildup of aggression, often fueled by racism, culminated in a politically charged attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Such examples of discord make it clear that our work is challenging, timely and absolutely necessary. This would be a hugely important and complicated project, especially as we were relaunching this working group during COVID, so we focused on conducting a timely and efficient first meeting over Zoom.
But the Holy Spirit had a little feedback on that approach, and it came via one of the Latino missioners in our diocese, who was serving with us, the Rev. Beto Arciniega. Beto suggested that we consider using another approach in running our meetings, one rooted in building relationships along with action plans.
Since then, we have begun each of our meetings with a relationship-building activity led by a different member of our working group. One month we all wrote and shared haikus about our experiences with race and racism; another month we wrote and shared a letter to our childhood selves about what we had learned about racism in 2020. The sharing of our stories and lives that happens in those first 30 minutes of our bi-monthly meetings has created a level of trust and community within our working group. As a result, we communicate and work more honestly and openly with one another as we navigate the dynamics of race and racism within our churches and diocese.
The anti-racism coach and consultant Aiko Bethea has commented, “Anti-racist work is not transactional. It is relational.” Ours is a relational God, one who walked the earth 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ and one who still blows through our world in the person of the Holy Spirit. Our God is relational, and our work at dismantling racism and creating Beloved Community is, too.
The Rev. Jeanne Kaliszewski is the rector at St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukie, Oregon, and Michael Montgomery is a member and former senior warden at St. Philip the Deacon in Portland. Together they co-chair the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon’s Engaging Racial Justice Working Group.