When my congregation planned a six-week series on white privilege, we leaders didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps 15 people would attend, I figured. After all, six 90-minute sessions on a dark school night is a big commitment, even if the topic weren’t a difficult one. As we got closer to the first evening and only a few had signed up, I lowered my expectations: maybe 10.
How astonishing, then, to find a group so large that we had to move into the fellowship hall and make a big double circle of chairs. With about 40 people every week, we ended up with some 60 total who attended one or all of the sessions. Most surprising was that close to a third were people we didn’t know—people from the community who had learned about the series from social media or word of mouth.
And, while the purpose of the series was for a predominantly white congregation to do its own hard work, about nine of the visitors were people of color. One African American man was the father of a woman shot and killed one year earlier by a white policeman in our city. This father attended every session, and his generous spirit enriched our time together.
As the group examined ways that whiteness is the norm in our society, the conversation was thoughtful and vulnerable. Some black participants shared their experiences with daily realities such as health care and schools. Some white participants realized how few people of color they knew, and told the group they were asking themselves why. Some folks took that question seriously and got together later with new friends for coffee or lunch.
In a time when it’s easy to be discouraged, I see hope in dozens of people showing up week after week to engage in a “brave conversation,” to use the words of pastor Katie Shaw Thompson, with whom I co-led this series. I am heartened.
Come on in. Pull up a chair. We’ll make the circle bigger.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.