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Acknowledge. Commit. Transform.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult. is the name of the novel I am reading these days. It is a dynamic and powerful read about the rampant racism that exists in North America today. There are depictions of the thoughts in the mind of a white supremacist that are terrifying. The novel shines a probing spotlight on how our dominant white culture assumes its privileges and maintains its iron-clad hold on society.

Last week in this column, I briefly mentioned that some of the energy at General Council 43 was focused on racism and calling out white privilege. This week, I have a bit more to tell you about what happened in the very last hours of GC43 and what this particular gathering will most likely always be remembered for.

During the final two hours of our time together in the full court, we suddenly found ourselves veering into brand new territory and away from the predictable processes of the 43 General Council. Intercultural Observer Paul Douglas Walfall spoke in the late afternoon on Friday and called on the church to recognize its own racism and the marginalization of racialized members. After Paul’s powerful words, youth delegate Daniel MacDonald and commissioner Penny Nelson presented a proposal that the General Council ask their racialized siblings for forgiveness, and that business processes and procedures be “transformed” from this point forward. For two hours, commissioners and guests shared deeply personal stores of how they have been hurt and marginalized by the church. This was not on the agenda. This was not planned. Former Moderator Jordan Cantwell gave people the time and space they needed to tell stories they had never dreamed of sharing. We sat and listened. It truly was an unforgettable two hours of time in a very “thin place.”

Friday, July 27, was a powerful call to the church for true transformation. Included in Paul Walfall’s remarks was the challenge to us, “Acknowledge. Commit. Transform.” We all have our own work to do around issues of racism and priveledge I am not just talking about white priveledge. There are also people who are marginalized and silenced because of living in a less than able body; those who are visually impaired or those who become invisible when they reach an age over sixty-five. There are also people who are marginalized and silenced because of living in a less than able body; those who are visually impaired; hearing impaired;  those who become invisible when they reach an age over sixty-five and many more categories of human beings who tend to end up in the peripheral zone of our vision.

The last speaker at the mic was Colin Philips one of our ten nominees for Moderator. Our Executive Secretary Nora Sanders writes, “Colin has a PhD and is a lecturer at Ryerson University as well as being a former member of General Council Executive and of my Supervisory Committee. He is also a person who lives with cerebral palsy and talks through a communication board because he is unable to form words with his voice. I could not hold back the tears as I heard him describe the pain he felt when people did not approach him for conversation, or to share a meal time table with him. I understand that people tend to avoid situations when they are not sure what to do… no doubt I am one of those people at times. What a loss for those who have missed out on a conversation with this brilliant and funny man, and what excruciating isolation he described.” Nora describes a moment in time when many of us were moved to tears. We suddenly realized that someone among us was hurting deeply yet until Colin spoke from his courageous heart, the lenses we saw through during the week when were all together as a church, did not allow us to see his pain. (Watch Dr. Philips’ speak at GC43 HERE)

Acknowledge. Commit. Transform. We are called to be the body of Christ. To seek justice and resist evil. Sometimes we do beautiful things together. Sometimes we mess up. As our Executive Secretary Nora Sanders wrote, “The Holy Spirit comes to us in comforting ways. The Holy Spirit comes to us in unsettling ways. Thanks be to God.”

Lorraine Ashdown

Lorraine often refers to herself as a “Prairie Girl” even though she left her hometown of Winnipeg fifteen years ago. Lorraine graduated from Vancouver School of Theology with a Masters of Arts in Public and Pastoral Leadership and a diploma in Indigenous and Interreligious Studies. She is the Minister of Pastoral Care, Elders and Outreach with St. Andrew’s Wesley. Lorraine was Ordained on Sunday, June 3rd, 2018 at BC Conference in Penticton,B.C. Lorraine brings to St. Andrew’s Wesley an authentic love of the United Church and a desire to create community and a sense of belonging within the faith community of St. Andrew’s Wesley and beyond.

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