Two Savannah UM churches join to combat racism
By Kara Witherow, Editor
In Savannah, a group of 30 churchgoers are working to combat racism, and they’re doing it in true United Methodist style – with food, fellowship, and learning.
The diverse group – comprised of ConneXion Church members, Trinity United Methodist Church members, and a handful of others from the community – were brought together by ConneXion Church member Ariana Berksteiner and Rev. Stacey Harwell-Dye, Trinity UMC’s Minister of Community Building.
The two founded C.U.R.E. – Connecting and Understanding Race and Equality – to help find a way for people in their community to come together and have discussions that will bring issues of racism to light and combat it at every level.
“Seeing young black men being killed gave me a sense of helplessness,” said Berksteiner, who has a three-year-old son and another on the way. “When you see this happening in your community and culture you can’t sit idly by.”
Bersteiner’s and Rev. Harwell-Dye’s dream for C.U.R.E. is that, through involvement with the program, people would become more understanding and aware of racism and would actively work toward ending it.
“We hope that minds are changed to both see where racism is – for people to open their eyes to the ways racism is pervasive in our communities and the ways we have implicit biases – and how we can change our own hearts and minds to be more like the mind of God, our creator,” said Rev. Harwell-Dye. “If we are truly followers of Christ this has to be part of our call.”
C.U.R.E had a kickoff party Jan. 14 and began meeting monthly in groups of 10 in February. One group meets at ConneXion Church and the other two groups rotate meeting at members’ homes. Members read a selected book and come to the meeting prepared for discussion. So far, the groups have read and examined “Why We Can't Wait” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and “Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community” by Rev. Willis Johnson. The group received a Peace with Justice grant to cover part of the cost of books and meals.
The groups gather in homes and around a meal because those environments foster intimacy and relationships, Rev. Harwell-Dye said, and those are important when discussing sensitive topics.
“(These meals) give space and time to have honest, real conversations about race,” Berksteiner said. “Sometimes the conversations are rough, and that’s okay. We’ve found common ground among each other, common ground we didn’t think we had. We’ve shared perspectives and experiences. We’ve been really brave and honest, and others have been really genuine in listening. I think that comes from being in an environment where you’re surrounded in Christ; that’s the most important common denominator. At the end of the day we all have love in our hearts.”
The church has a responsibility and an obligation to preach against racism, Rev. Harwell-Dye said, and to help solve the problem.
“The church has an obligation to teach on this issue so that everybody who sits in the pews has some exposure to thinking through how God calls us to be anti-racist,” she said. “Preachers have a responsibility to preach against racism and in favor of an inclusive Kingdom of God.”
Bersteiner and Rev. Harwell-Dye hope that other congregations will see the need for programs like C.U.R.E. and are designing a curriculum so that others will be able to replicate the program in their communities.
Bersteiner says that this process takes time and won’t happen overnight, but that this initiative is an important step in the right direction.
“This is too important to be rushed,” she said. “But in a year, we want to see that something has changed; that there’s been growth. Whether that’s a group that wants to continue spending time together beyond the year-long project or if that’s something more measureable, it’s important that those relationships are fostered. That’s the beginning.”
C.U.R.E. is one way two churches in Savannah are actively combating racism one meal, and one conversation, at a time.
Interested in starting this kind of crucial conversation in your congregation? Contact Rev. Stacey Harwell-Dye, chair of the conference Advocacy team, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peace with Justice grants are also available. Click here to learn more.